Skip to comments.Iran Envoy In Bombing Inquiry Is Freed On Bail
Posted on 09/12/2003 5:24:16 PM PDT by blam
Iran envoy in bombing inquiry is freed on bail
By Anton La Guardia, Diplomatic Editor
A senior Iranian diplomat arrested in Britain last month was released on bail yesterday after the High Court ruled that no evidence had yet been presented to support charges that he was involved in the bombing of a Jewish community centre in Buenos Aires.
The surprise ruling may be an early hint of problems with the extradition request issued by an Argentine judge, Juan Jose Galeano, who is investigating the attack that killed 85 people in 1994.
The High Court decision will relieve some of the tension in relations between Britain and Iran, exacerbated in recent days by two shooting attacks on the British embassy in Teheran.
However, Jewish groups expressed fears that Hadi Soleimanpour, the Iranian ambassador to Argentina at the time of the bombing, could escape justice.
Mr Soleimanpour, 47, was studying for a PhD in eco-tourism at Durham University when he was arrested by police acting on a provisional arrest warrant from Judge Galeano. The Crown Prosecution Service convinced Bow Street magistrates' court last week to deny him bail pending extradition proceedings.
But a High Court judge overturned the decision, freeing Mr Soleimanpour on condition that he pay a £730,000 surety and report daily to a police station.
Mr Justice Royce said he had read a 391-page report issued by Judge Galeano last March setting out the findings of his investigation and naming Mr Soleimanpour.
"The report did not point, in my judgment, to any clear evidence demonstrating his involvement in this attack," said the judge. He also accepted defence arguments that Mr Soleimanpour had known about a possible extradition request from Argentina since March and "clearly could have departed these shores by now had he so wished".
Argentina has until Friday to provide enough proof to justify Mr Soleimanpour's arrest, and another month to submit its full case. If the Home Secretary finds the documents unsatisfactory, he could deny "authority to proceed" and free Mr Soleimanpour.
Foreign Office diplomats are worried about the anti-British fervour being whipped up by hardliners in Teheran, and have allowed non-essential embassy staff and diplomats' dependents to leave.
For the moment, British and Iranian authorities have tried to contain the crisis. Both have an interest in maintaining good contacts, not least because of the unrest in Iraq.
The Government fears a breakdown in relations with Teheran could endanger its forces in southern Iraq, where Iran has influence among the majority Shi'ites.
At the same time, Teheran needs relations with Britain to try to influence the post-Saddam Hussein government being established by the US-led coalition in Baghdad.
But British diplomats acknowledge that it will be difficult to maintain such ties if Mr Soleimanpour's case drags on for months, in the same way as the failed extradition proceedings against the former Chilean dictator, Gen Augusto Pinochet.
Mr Soleimanpour's counsel, Alun Jones, QC, who defended Gen Pinochet, told the judge that the evidence against the diplomat was mere "innuendo, hearsay and suspicion". He said Mr Soleimanpour intended to stay in England to clear his name and complete his thesis.
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