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Court requests Iraq arrest of Velayati

Former Iranian foreign minister Ali Akbar Velayati, whose extradition from Iraqi capital Bagdad was requested by Federal Judge Rodolfo Canicoba Corral yesterday, is seen in a file photo.
Former Iranian FM seen in Baghdad is suspected of helping plan 1994 AMIA bombing

Federal Judge Rodolfo Canicoba Corral has requested that the Iraqi government arrest Ali Akbar Velayati — Iran’s former foreign minister and a suspect in the 1994 bombing of the AMIA Jewish community centre — and extradite him to Argentina.

Velayati has been the subject of a standing Argentine arrest warrant since 2006 in connection with the case. The request to Baghdad follows reports that he travelled to Iraq recently.

Canicoba Corral previously issued similar requests to detain Velayati to the governments of Singapore and Malaysia in June that were unsuccessful.

The AMIA unit, comprised of prosecutors that replaced late AMIA special prosecutor Alberto Nisman atop the probe, alleges that Velayati helped plan of the attack that claimed the lives of 85 people and injured or maimed hundreds more.

The AMIA unit formally petitioned Canicoba Corral to issue the arrest warrant when it became aware of Velayati’s latest movements.

Because Velayati is not currently the subject of an Interpol red notice, any arrest and extradition process will need to be processed through bilateral agreements.

Canicoba Corral previously told the EFE news agency that Velayati is wanted “as a suspect of the attack, as one of the conspirators if not one of those materially responsible.”

The AMIA attack remains the single worst terrorist attack in Argentine history. It shook Argentine society to the core only two years after the 1992 bombing of the Israeli Embassy in Buenos Aires — an attack which also has yet to see anyone brought to justice.

Velayati has always denied any kind of involvement in the AMIA attack, labelling the accusations against him and others as baseless and politically motivated. He is currently the president of the Centre for Strategic Research, a leading Iranian think tank previously chaired by the current Iranian President Hassan Rouhani. Velayati was Iran’s Foreign minister from from 1981 to 1997 and unsuccessfully ran for president in 2013.

Last year, during an exclusive interview with the C5N news channel, Velayati said he was innocent: “We believe that this is a baseless accusation, a falsehood, a lie.”

When asked if he would be willing to appear before an Argentine court, he responded that there’s no reason why an Iranian official should have to answer to another nation.

Latest development in an ongoing case

The second sudden legal move seeking Velayati’s arrest this year comes amid the ongoing calls for justice from survivors, the Jewish community and the entire political class. Despite years of probes, a trial and now a trial of the cover up, the courts have yet to convict any of those responsible. Iranian suspects have never faced Argentine judges.

Velayati is part of a group of Iranian officials including former cultural attaché Mohsen Rabbani, former Defence minister Ahmadi Vahidi, former intelligence minister Ali Fallahijan, former head of the Revolutionary Guard Mohsen Rezai and third secretary Ahmad Reza Asghar, among others, was subject to arrest warrants issued by Canicoba Corral after requests from Nisman.

Shortly before his death in January 2015, Nisman filed a criminal complaint against former president Cristina Fernández de Kirchner, whom he accused of agreeing to a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with Iran that would grant the country impunity in exchange for improved trade with the Islamic Republic. The courts have yet to conclusively rule whether Nisman was the victim of a homicide or if he committed suicide.

That MOU, signed in 2013 but never implemented, called for the creation of a Truth Commission made up of international jurists to review all of the evidence collected by Argentine and Iranian judicial authorities, which would then provide non-binding recommendations to the parties of the agreement. The commission would sit in Tehran and have the authority to interrogate those who were subject to an Interpol red notice requested by Argentina. The commission also would have the right to question the representatives of both parties to the MOU.

It was ruled unconstitutional by an Argentine court in 2015 and President Mauricio Macri’s administration withdrew the appeal lodged by Fernández de Kirchner, effectively repealing the MOU. As such, there is currently an ongoing debate within the government about whether or not it would make sense to conduct a trial “in absentia,” which would allow the court to try defendants without being present. Such a proposal has proven to be divisive within the Jewish community.

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