Secret 'Zarif recording' suggests Iranian flight was 'deliberately downed'
Canada's public broadcaster, who released the tape, identified the voice on the recording as belonging to Iran's Foreign Minister Mohammed Javad Zarif, who has since denied the claims.
He is heard saying that there are a "thousand possibilities" to explain what caused the deadly plane crash, which was fired on by Iranian air defences, killing 176 people.
The voice then adds it was possible this could have been a "deliberate attack" - rather than an accident as officially acknowledged - involving two or three "infiltrators".
The voice adds that he believes this scenario was "not at all unlikely".
During the secret recording - which is being reviewed by the Canadian government and security agencies - Zarif is then heard saying that Iran's political and military leadership will never reveal the truth.
"There are reasons that they will never be revealed. They won't tell us, nor anyone else, because if they do it will open some doors into the defence systems of the country that will not be in the interest of the nation to publicly say," he says, speaking in Farsi.
According to CBC, the recorded conversation occurred in the months following the incident.
After denials, Iran finally acknowledged that minutes after taking off, Ukraine International Airlines Flight 752 was hit by two surface-to-air missiles on 8 January 2020, fired by Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps.
Among the 176 passengers and crew killed were 138 with ties to Canada.
Following the incident, Iran blamed the incident on "human error", but were also repeatedly criticised for failing to cooperate with international investigators.
According to Iranian President Hassan Rouhani, Iran's military unintentionally shot down the plane after they mistook the passenger plans for a hostile target.
The downing of Flight 752 occurred at a time of heightened tensions and hostilities, following a US drone strike that killed Iranian commander Qasem Solemani.
Regarding the possibility that "infiltrators" could have been responsible for the attack, the man identified as Zarif says: "There would have been two or three people who did this. And it's not at all unlikely. They could have been infiltrators. There are a thousand possibilities. Maybe it was really because of the war and it was the radar."
The speaker goes on to present Russia as an example of a country that was accused of shooting down a passenger plane but never acknowledged this.
On more than one occasion he cites the compensation that was offered to the victims' families as a means of closing "the issue" and prevent the incident being viewed as "an international crime" by other countries.
At the end of last year, Iran proposed compensating the victims' families with $150,000. Canada rejected this offer, with Ralph Goodale, the Canadian prime minister's special adviser on the Flight 752 file, claiming that Tehran does not have the right to unilaterally offer compensation to victims' families.
Payam Akhavan, a former UN prosecutor and member of the permanent court of arbitration at The Hague, described the recording as "highly significant", adding that the recording was now being reviewed by Canada's intelligence agencies.
While the recording was not a "smoking gun" he said that it does suggest that Iran hasn't conducted a proper investigation.
"The fact that he would say in a conversation that it is not at all unlikely that the destruction of 752 could have been organised and intentional is highly significant. The fact that he sees that as a real possibility, I think, should make us pause and really consider whether there's not something far more diabolical at play," he said.
Since news of the recording was reported, Zarif has taken to Twitter to hit back at claims and denied the voice was his.
"Following flight #PS752 tragedy, I & many others insisted that ALL possibilities—including foreign infiltration or electronic interference—must be investigated (fake audio notwithstanding)."