Iranians confess to spying for Mossad

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The Independent Online

Three of 13 Iranian Jews on trial for espionage admitted yesterday in Shiraz to spying for Mossad, Israel's secret service, without the knowledge - or approval - of their legal team.

The alleged ringleader, Hamid Danny Tefileen, a 30-year-old shoe store clerk, told a revolutionary court that he sold information to Mossad. "There was a financial need [but]... there were religious issues as well. Over there they told me the promised land, Israel, was my real country," he said. "I have been spying for Israel. On my trip to Israel in 1994, I was trained for my activity in Iran." He later said that he spied for $500 (£315) a month.

Shahrokh Paknahad told reporters he spied for Israel, expressing remorse for his treason, anger with the Israelis for not coming to his aid, and kinship with the presiding judge, whom he described as a friend. Ramin Nematizadeh also admitted guilt to the court.

A defence legal team spokesman, Esmail Naseri, said no classified information was involved in his clients' activities and thus, under Iranian law, they could not be considered espionage. "The defendants can't distinguish this for themselves," he told The Independent after the hearing yesterday. "We've explained it to them, but they've still confessed. What can we do?"

The defence maintains the confessions are inadmissible under Iranian and international law, since the suspects, held for over a year, have had only one month of legal counsel. Nor could the confessions substitute for objective evidence.

"We'll try to weaken their confessions in our defence," Mr Naseri said.

Mr Tefileen said on Iranian television that he was well and had been under no psychological pressure when he made his confession. "I am well in every respect," he said outside court.

Mr Tefileen, whose family lives in Israel, appears an unlikely candidate for the espionage he has admitted to committing since 1994 when, he said, Mossad recruited him. According to a representative of the Jewish community, Mr Tefileen would have difficulty taking down a phone number.

Most of the suspects are shop clerks and religious teachers from Shiraz, the most orthodox of Iran's regional Jewish communities.

The defendants' families deny the charges. Ramin Farzam's father, who sells perfume in the Tehran bazaar, said his son had never visited Shiraz, let alone participated in a spy ring based there.

Jewish community leaderssaid that they did not know inadvance that Mr Tefileen would confess to espionage.

Israeli officials said Iran had extracted the confession under pressure but an international human rights monitor who was briefly allowed to meet Mr Tefileen said he seemed healthy. Elahe Sharifpour-Hicks, of the New York-based group Human Rights Watch, said Mr Tefileen had appeared frightened but showed no signs of having been tortured orinjured.

Judge Sadeq Nourani who, under the Iranian legal system, is acting as both prosecutor and judge in the case, will review the 13 files serially and hand down one verdict in about three weeks' time.

The maximum penalty for espionage is death. Two appeals are allowed.

International Jewish organisations fear the 13 will not receive a fair trial. Several countries, the United Nations and human rights groups have also condemned the trial as unfair. But international observers said yesterday that the proceedings were "less suspect" than other trials of religious minorities.