TEHRAN, Iran (AP) — Iran accused France on Tuesday of using the trial of an Iranian allegedly linked to the country’s nuclear program to put political pressure on Tehran, which is prosecuting a French national accused of involvement in the post-election protests against the government.
U.S. authorities have alleged the Iranian on trial in France, Majid Kakavand, is tied to companies involved in Iran’s contentious nuclear program. His lawyers have denied that. The U.S. requested his arrest and extradition, accusing him of buying electronics over the Internet via a company in Malaysia in violation of U.S. trade sanctions on Iran, his lawyer Marie-Laure Bonaldi-Nut said.
“We denounce this trial by the French and we think that they, under U.S. pressure, want to put pressure on Iran,” Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Ramin Mehmanparast said at a news conference. He called the proceedings against Kakavand “illegal, insisting he was innocent and demanded his release as soon as possible.
The spokesman did not say why he believes France would be seeking to pressure Iran.
But an Iranian court is prosecuting a 24-year-old French academic, Clotilde Reiss, as part of a mass trial against opposition supporters. The trial is part of a government crackdown on the anti-government protests that followed the disputed June presidential election. Iran has been holding three Americans in prison since July and accused them of spying. But the U.S. insists they are innocent hikers who accidentally crossed the border from northern Iraq.
France has helped lead Western efforts to rein in Iran’s nuclear program, which the U.S. and its allies suspect is geared toward producing weapons. Iran denies the allegation and says the program is for peaceful, energy production.
Iran released a list last year of 11 Iranians it says are being held in the U.S. — including a nuclear scientist who disappeared in Saudi Arabia and a former Defense Ministry official who vanished in Turkey. The list also includes an Iranian arrested in Canada on charges of trying to obtain nuclear technology. Kakavand’s name appears on the list, which wrongly claims he was handed over the Americans.
French media have suggested Kakavand was one of two Iranians that Iran wanted to trade with France in exchange for Reiss, who is charged with endangering national security and taking part in the anti-government protests that erupted in the weeks after the election.
Another French national, Nazak Afshar, was arrested around the same time and also accused of fanning the revolt in Iran. She was later released from jail and is barred from leaving Iran pending the end of her trial.
Mehmanparast alleged the French judiciary was working closely with the United States and that the U.S. had provided the court with “fake evidence” against the student.
“Kakavand is on trial despite his innocence,” Mehmanparast said.
Iran claims Kakavand is an electrical engineering student. His lawyer calls him an engineer, not a student. He was arrested last March when he arrived in Paris as part of an organized tour of Europe.
He appeared at a hearing in a Paris court last week on the U.S. extradition request, and judges ordered a new hearing for Feb. 17. His lawyers argued in court that Kakavand should not be extradited. They cited technical reasons and said he broke no French or European laws.
The lawyer and Iran’s ambassador to France, Seyed Mehdi Miraboutalebi, both denied Kakavand is linked to companies involved in Iran’s nuclear program. His lawyer said he was an electrical engineer for an oil company, though he lost his job after his arrest in France. Bonaldi-Nut said he purchased cables, capacitors and condensers.
On Aug. 26, Kakavand was released from prison but required to stay in France while awaiting an extradition decision.
Associated Press Writer Angela Doland in Paris contributed to this report.