By Faramarz Kuhpayeh

Soldier Negotiator Expert Spy

January 14, 2023 - 22:31

TEHRAN – “Few men can resist expressing their appetites when they're making a fantasy about themselves.” This sentence from the 2011 Cold War spy thriller film Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy sums up the story of Alireza Akbari, which came to an end on Saturday.

What did Akbari see in his fantasies? A brand new Porsche? A multi-million, luxurious house in London? Maybe. But what is certain about his case is that he failed to make use of the wealth he accumulated over the years while spying for the UK. 

On Saturday, the Iranian Judiciary officially announced the execution of Akbari, who has been convicted of spying on Iran for MI6. Akbari was arrested three years ago and has since been in prison. 

In a taped interview aired on Thursday, he touched upon how he was deceived and recruited by the MI6 to launch UK-orchestrated plans and ploys to infiltrate high-profile Iranian figures to obtain sensitive information.

In the video, he confessed that from the outset he was identified by the intelligence agent working in the British embassy in Tehran, saying, “In a diplomatic session, the UK ambassador along with another person approached me for an informal chitchat and then they gave me a card. After a while, I received a phone call from a person who told me the UK ambassador wanted to meet you.”

His first round of contact with MI6 began in 2004 and lasted until 2009, according to the Judiciary. In this period, he was arrested on charges of spying and then released on bail. The second round began after 2009 when he left Iran for Europe, ultimately settling down in England. 

Akbari stated, “They offered me a long-term visa in case of having close contacts with the UK embassy.” He added, “I accepted the offer and paid a visit to embassy to hold talks with the UK ambassador along with another person who I finally found out he was working for the MI6.”

“During the meeting, the MI6 agent got closer to me and said the whole story about the espionage by informing me about how to provide sensitive information to him. I was given a laptop, telling me if you open a page, we can trace you. In other words, they did this because of having a safe kind of communication,” he added.

Iran summoned British Ambassador to Iran Simon Shercliff hours after the Akbari announcement over “England’s unconventional meddling including in the realm of the national security” of Iran. 

The Foreign Ministry said Iran conveyed its protest over “acts of sabotage” that contradict Iran’s national security to the UK.

The ministry said in a statement that Iran obtained solid evidence that the UK set a trap for Akbari to recruit him as a spy. “The British government should be held accountable for establishing unconventional communications leading to an encroachment on the national security of the Islamic Republic of Iran. And unjustified and mischievous support for a spy agent is not compatible with the claim of relations based on mutual respect,” the statement said. 

At the Iranian Foreign Ministry, the British ambassador was told that Iran’s “decisive" action to protect the national security is not dependent on consent of other governments, including England.

Shercliff was also told that the continuation of such “illegal and criminal actions” is by no means acceptable.  

"The Iranian Foreign Ministry official stressed that a decisive action on the part of Iran to safeguard its national security wouldn’t be contingent upon consent of other governments including Britain and said the continuation of such illegal and criminal acts will not be tolerated," the ministry said.

Observers believe that the Akbari case is important in terms of its consequences and therefore is a big move because it could help Iran bust other moles and elements currently spying for the UK. It also indicated that the Islamic Republic is adamant in hunting down spies. And this, according to observers, makes Iran a terrible terrain for MI6. Because individuals like Akbari, the argument goes, will think twice before getting tempted into spying for the UK. They will brood if it is worth getting themselves sent to the gallows for a brand new car and a luxurious house in London.

The execution of Akbari is the first high-profile case involving charges of spying for the UK. But it may not be the last. Iran could well be working towards identifying other moles and spies connected to the Akbari case.  In other words, the Akbari case could be a harbinger of a renewed hunt for new spies. At the end of the day, “there's a rotten apple, we have to find it.”

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