Ali Akbari in his “confession” on Iran State TV
UPDATE 0642 GMT:
Richard Dayton, the UK Ambassador to Iran from December 2002to March 2006, has challenged the “false allegation” by Iranian officials, repeated in The New York Times, that Iran’s former Deputy Minister of Defense Alireza Akbari was recruited by British intelligence during a function at the UK Embassy.
In an e-mail to EA WorldView, Dalton says:
I assure you
that [Akbari] did not have separate, let alone regular, meetings with me. Mr. Akbari never came to the embassy between
December 2002 and March 2006.
Other than when there was formal hospitality for a ministerial visit from Britain, and given the deep underlying suspicion of Britain past and present, potential senior Iranian official guests did not consider themselves to be safe enough from Iranian official inquisition to enter: they would have been denied permission if and when they had asked.
Dalton adds, “Once, in the short honeymoon period of UK/Iran relations in the first half of 2003, a couple of senior officials came to a reception, but that was it: no ministers or deputy ministers.”
ORIGINAL ENTRY: Multiple officials have detailed the work for UK intelligence by former Iran Deputy Defense Minister Alireza Akbari, executed in January on espionage charges.
The New York Times gathered the information from officials in with the US, UK, Israel, and Germany as well as Iran.
Akbari, a dual UK-Iran national, provided detailed information from 2004 to 2019 on the Iranian nuclear program, helping foreign intelligence services assess if Tehran was moving to an atomic bomb. The UK began sharing the revelations with Israel in April 2008, when a senior British intelligence official flew to Tel Aviv.
Amid suspicions in Israel and other countries that Iran was pursuing a nuclear warhead, Mr. Akbari met regularly with the ambassadors of the UK, China, France, Germany, and Russia to convince them that this was not the case.
The details supported the decisions by Western governments, including the US, to pursue international sanctions. However, they also bolstered negotiations that led to the 2015 nuclear deal between Iran and the 5+1 Powers (UK, US, France, Germany, China, and Russia).
In 2019 Iranian officials, with the assistance of Russian intelligence, discovered that Akbari had told the UK before 2008 of the clandestine Fordoo nuclear facility, built inside a mountain near Tehran. The secret development was among the information passed to the Israelis.
Tehran also said Akbari disclosed the identity and activities of more than 100 officials. Among them was the chief nuclear scientist Mohsen Fakhrizadeh, assassinated by Israel assassinated in November 2020.
Story of a Spy
A decorated Revolutionary Guards commander, Akbari was close to Fakhrizadeh and to Ali Shamkhani, the current Secretary of the National Security Council, whom he served as a deputy and an advisor.
In eight short video “confessions” aired by Iran State TV after his execution — confessions which Akbari told his family had been coerced by torture — he said he was recruited at a social gathering at the UK Embassy in Tehran. He was told that he and his family would be given visas to travel to Britain.
The next year, Akbari met in London with a handler from the UK foreign intelligence service MI6. He created front companies in Austria, Spain, and the UK to provide cover for further meetings.
Akbari retired from official posts in 2008, but continued to serve as an advisor to Shamkhani and other senior Iranian officials. Later that year, he was detained and held for four months on accusations that he was spying for the UK. Influential associates vouched for him, and the case was closed.
Akbari continued to advise Iranian Foreign Ministry officials, who told him about closed-door meetings, policies, and nuclear negotiations.
In 2010 Akbari suffered a heart attack during a regular visit to London. He remained there after his recovery, joined by his wife and two daughters, and obtained UK citizenship. He traveled from London to Tehran at least three times from 2010 to 2019 and stayed at a family home in the Iranian capital.
In 2019, Akbari flew again to Iran after Shamkhani, the Supreme National Security Council head, told him that he was needed on an urgent nuclear and defense matter. A few days later, he was summoned to the Intelligence Ministry. He called Shamkhani, who said authorities had heard he was in contact with MI6 and urged him to cooperate to prove his innocence.
This time there would be no escape — the Russians had confirmed to Iranian officials that Akbari was the source of the leak about the Fordoo nuclear complex. After several interrogations, he was arrested.
The following year, Israel assassinated nuclear scientist Fakhrizadeh with a remote-controlled “supergun”. Akbari was detained by the Intelligence Ministry and held in solitary confinement, first in an underground facility and then in Tehran’s Evin Prison.
In January, Iranian authorities launched the public campaign declaring that Akbari was a British spy. He was hanged days later in an early-morning execution at Evin.
His family were not told of the hanging, or of Akbari’s burial in a large cemetery outside Tehran. Akbari’s sister and daughter were informed by officials that there was no body to collect as it had been interred.
On the 40th day of his execution, the family was allowed to hold a memorial service in a hall in a Tehran mosque. They were ready to welcome guests, from Akbari’s time in the Revolutionary Guards, his Government service, and his business career.
No one came.