TEHRAN (FNA)- An Iranian revolutionary court sentenced a man to death Monday on charges of spying for Israel.
It was the country’s first known conviction for espionage linked to Israel in almost a decade.
Ali Ashtari, a 45-year-old salesman of electronic merchandise, had a job supplying military, security and defense centers across the country with electronic devices.
An unnamed intelligence official told the state-run tv that Ashtari “relayed sensitive information on military, defense and research centers” to Israeli intelligence officers.
Ashtari, who was arrested in 2007, tried to “create a link” between Iranian experts and Israeli agents, the unnamed Iranian official said.
Ashtari, who was arrested about 18 months ago by the Iranian Intelligence, admitted during the court session that he had met with three Mossad agents abroad.
Once the prosecution presented the court with various wiretapping equipment used by Ashtari in his espionage activities, he reportedly confessed, pled guilty on all charges and expressed remorse for his actions.
“Iran is too intelligent to believe the lies the enemy’s agents are trying to tell it,” Ashtari told reporters at the courthouse.
Ashtari further told reporters that his business was based mostly on importing wireless communication devices from Dubai, “since besides imports I was also doing some planning and consulting work, so they (Israel) asked me about the communications’ infrastructure in Iran.”
According to him, “The Mossad wanted to use me to sell marked goods to the Iranian Intelligence.” He told the court he had contact with three Mossad agents, ” Jacques, Charles and Tony,” and that they met several times, in Thailand, Turkey and Switzerland.
The three apparently presented themselves as bankers who worked for the Fortis Bank (a Belgium bank ranked among Europe’s top 20 financial institutions), and told him they were interested in exploring a business venture.
The three offered him an unofficial loan – “which struck me as odd” – and proceeded to give him a laptop – “which could send and receive encrypted email” – as well as two DSL (Digital Subscriber Line) devices with a satellite hookup, “to give to my Iranian clients. I think those were wired.”
According to court records, Ashtari then said that the Mossad gave him $50,000 as a business loan, “to buy merchandise to sell in Iran” and paid for all of his travel expenses.
“After six or seven meetings they invited me to Switzerland and said they wanted to help me get medical treatments, because I have a heart problem. But when I got there they had me undergo a polygraph test. They wanted to make sure I wasn’t working for the Iranian Intelligence and that I have no military record.”
Ashtari’s arrest was made public on Saturday, when FNA reported that an Iranian national was arrested for allegedly spying for Israel.
Under Iranian law, Ashtari has 20 days to appeal the verdict, which was handed down Sunday.
Iran and Israel have long been enemies. But the ruling against Ashtari is the first time since 2000 that an Iranian court has convicted and sentenced an Iranian citizen on charges of espionage for Israel.
It was handed down by Iran’s Revolutionary Court, which handles security issues.
A closed-door trial in 2000 convicted 10 Iranian Jews of spying for Israel and sentenced them to prison terms ranging from four to 13 years. All were released before serving out their full sentences.
The material that Ashtari allegedly passed to Israeli intelligence officials also included information on Iran’s Atomic Energy Organization.
Israel and its close ally the United States accuse Iran of seeking a nuclear weapon, while they have never presented any corroborative document to substantiate their allegations. Iran vehemently denies the charges, insisting that its nuclear program is for peaceful purposes only.
Tehran stresses that the country has always pursued a civilian path to provide power to the growing number of Iranian population, whose fossil fuel would eventually run dry.
Iran has also insisted that it would continue enriching uranium because it needs to provide fuel to a 300-megawatt light-water reactor it is building in the southwestern town of Darkhoveyn as well as its first nuclear power plant in the southern port city of Bushehr.
Tel Aviv and Washington have recently intensified their threats to launch military action against Iran to make Tehran drop what they allege to be a non-peaceful nuclear program, while a recent report by 16 US intelligence bodies endorsed the civilian nature of Iran’s programs.
Following the US National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) and similar reports by the IAEA head – one in November and the other one in February – which praised Iran’s truthfulness about key aspects of its past nuclear activities and announced settlement of outstanding issues with Tehran, any effort to impose further sanctions or launch military attack on Iran seems to be completely irrational.
In 1981, an Israeli air attack destroyed an unfinished nuclear reactor in Iraq. Israel also hit a suspected nuclear facility in Syria in September.
The commander of Iran’s Revolutionary Guards, Gen. Mohammad Ali Jafari, warned in a newspaper interview last week that if attacked, Iran would strike back – barraging Israel with missiles and choking off a key oil transit point in the Persian Gulf.