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Govt to deport Iranian ex-PM's assassin after academic freed

4 min

France signed a deportation order on Monday for Ali Vakili Rad, an Iranian agent convicted of the 1991 killing of former Iranian PM Shapour Bakhtiar in a Parisian suburb, according to a French Interior Ministry official.


AFP - France decided Monday to send home an Iranian agent it had jailed for murdering the Shah's last prime minister, two days after Tehran freed a young French academic accused of spying.

Ali Vakili Rad was serving a life sentence for stabbing Shapour Bakhtiar to death at his home outside Paris in August 1991, but he had recently asked for parole and Iranian leaders had linked his case to that of Clotilde Reiss.

A court is due to rule on the parole request on Tuesday, but Interior Minister Brice Hortefeux signed a deportation order on Monday, paving the way for his release and return back home.

"I am hopeful that at the May 18 hearing, Ali Vakili Rad will be released," said his lawyer Sorin Margulis.

The decision came after Reiss, a 24-year-old French researcher, returned to Paris on Sunday at the end of a 10-month ordeal in Iran, where she was put on trial on charges of acting against national security.

Given the timing of the releases, questions were raised as to whether there had been some secret deal with Iran, but both Paris and Tehran denied this.

Reiss, a fluent Farsi speaker and Iran specialist, was arrested on July 1 as she was preparing to fly home after a six-month study and teaching stint in the city of Isfahan.

She was accused of taking and emailing photos of protests that erupted after the disputed re-election of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in June, and handing material to a diplomat at the French embassy in Tehran.

Her return came a week after a Paris court rejected a US extradition request for an Iranian national accused of buying electronic components and exporting them illegally to be used by Tehran's military.

Engineer Majid Kakavand, who had been arrested in March 2009 at the request of Washington, flew home to Iran last Friday.

France denies that Kakavand's release and the imminent expulsion of Vakili Rad are linked to Reiss's case, but there was speculation of a quid pro quo.

Vakili Rad's lawyer Margulis told AFP that the Reiss affair "did nothing but delay my client's release."

After welcoming Reiss to the Elysee Palace on Sunday, President Nicolas Sarkozy thanked Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, Syrian leader Bashar al-Assad and Senegal's Abdoulaye Wade for their mediating efforts.

Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner flatly denied that there had been any "pay-off" for Reiss' release.

In September, Ahmadinejad linked Reiss's release to the fate of Iranian nationals held in French jails but Sarkozy vowed that there would be no swap.

Vakili Rad was convicted of murdering 76-year-old Bakhtiar at his home on August 6, 1991 and was serving a life sentence in Poissy, west of Paris. He became eligible for parole in July last year.

The last prime minister under Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi fled to France in 1980 after the Iranian Revolution and his home in Suresnes, west of Paris, had been under police surveillance.

Vakili Rad and an accomplice were allowed inside the villa by an aide to Bakhtiar, who was murdered along with his assistant Fouroush Katibeh.

Arrested in Switzerland, Vakili Rad stood trial in France in 1994.

His lawyer had also sought deportation for the Iranian national, arguing that he had no ties in France and should be allowed to leave.

Meanwhile the French government on Monday formally denied that Reiss was working for foreign intelligence when she took pictures of opposition protests after a former spy suggested she had provided information.

"These allegations are pure fantasy. They are also irresponsible," said foreign ministry spokesman Bernard Valero.

Pierre Siramy, a former employee at the DGSE foreign intelligence agency had earlier told Europe 1 radio that Reiss "is not a spy. She was a contact for our representative in Tehran.

"She provided reports on the political climate and in the area of arms proliferation. She did it voluntarily," Siramy said, in remarks that were immediately denied by the government.

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