BRUSSELS: An Iranian diplomat’s 20-year sentence in Belgium for plotting to bomb an opposition rally outside Paris was confirmed yesterday after he failed to appeal, his lawyer and prosecutors said. Assadollah Assadi, 49, was convicted in February by an Antwerp court of supplying explosives for the planned June 30, 2018 attack on the exiled opposition group the National Council of Resistance in Iran (NCRI). “I confirmed today that Mr Assadi does not wish to appeal,” his lawyer, Dimitri de Beco, told AFP, adding that his client contests the legitimacy of the Belgian justice system.
A spokesman for Belgium’s federal prosecutor’s office confirmed that “Mr Assadi’s lawyer has failed to lodge an appeal” to the conviction. Three individuals sentenced to between 15 and 18 years in prison as accomplices are maintaining their appeals against their convictions, the spokesman said. Those arguments are to be heard around mid-November. Iran has strongly protested Assadi’s conviction. Days after the February verdict, Iran’s foreign ministry summoned Belgium’s ambassador in Tehran to convey its fury.
Belgian police thwarted the 2018 attack when they intercepted a car carrying the bomb, acting on information gathered by several European intelligence services. Assadi, who was attached to Iran’s embassy in Austria at the time, was arrested the following day in Germany, where he was deemed unable to claim diplomatic immunity.
Investigators concluded that he was an Iranian agent working under diplomatic cover. The court ruled on February 4 that Assadi was guilty of an attempted attack “of a terrorist nature” and “participating in activities of a terrorist group” before handing him the maximum sentence. The trial featured surveillance images of Assadi dressed as a tourist, in a hat and with a camera, handing a couple a package in Luxembourg on June 28, 2018.
The couple-Nasimeh Naami and Amir Saadouni, both Iranian-Belgian dual nationals-were found to have accepted from Assadi a half-kilogramme of TATP explosives and a detonator. Another Iranian-Belgian, former dissident Mehrdad Arefani, was also found guilty of being an accomplice, tasked with guiding the couple to the rally.
The NCRI gathering included senior leaders of the dissident group and some high-profile supporters, including former US president Donald Trump’s personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani. In a statement yesterday, the NCRI’s leader Maryam Rajavi said the “terrorist conspiracy” showed Iran’s embassies and state-backed cultural centers in the EU should be closed and Iranian refugees acting as “regime agents” should be deported. The NCRI’s lawyer in the case, Georges-Henri Beauthier, told AFP that the big victory in Assadi’s conviction was that “the court established that the attack plot was brought about by the Iranian state and that the verdict is definitive”.
He added that “we might fear that the Iranian state could want to carry out other actions in Europe, given they have lost this round”. There are also concerns Iran might seek to pressure Belgium to release Assadi by detaining more European nationals. An Iranian-Swedish academic who guest lectured at Belgium’s VUB university, Ahmadreza Djalali, has been given a death sentence by Iran’s regime, which has accused him of espionage. – AFP