Turkey detains Iran consulate employee in murder probe

By: AFP      Published: 11:37 PM, 12 Feb, 2021
Turkey detains Iran consulate employee in murder probe

An Iranian consulate employee in Istanbul was remanded in custody on Friday in connection with a probe into the assassination of an Iranian dissident in Turkey in 2019.

The employee, identified by Turkey's Anadolu state news agency by his initials M.R.N., is suspected of providing forged travel documents for the assassination's alleged mastermind, allowing him to return to Iran.

The investigation concerns the gangland-style killing in Istanbul on November 14, 2019 of Masoud Molavi, who had helped run a channel on Telegram called "Black Box" since March 2018.

The encrypted social media channel published corruption allegations against members of the Iranian government, judiciary and intelligence services.

Police at the time said Molavi, who claimed to have contacts within Iran's Revolutionary Guard, was killed by an assassin who fired a dozen shots.

In a tweet posted a few months before his death, Molavi warned that he was in danger of being killed before he could "eradicate the leaders of this corrupt mafia".

The detention threatens to shake Turkey's close relations with Iran.

The neighbours enjoy robust trade and diplomatic ties despite a series of regional disputes, including in Syria.

The consulate employee's initial detention on Thursday was revealed by Turkey's pro-government Daily Sabah, which named the suspect as Muhammad Reza Naserzadeh, 43.

According to the paper, the man who used the forged travel documents to escape Turkey is called Ali Esfanjani, the alleged "mastermind" of the killing.

Iran's intelligence services are known to have a sizeable presence in Turkey, where many exiled Iranians live, and many more come on vacation.

In December, Turkey's MIT intelligence Service detained 11 Turks on suspicion of spying and kidnapping another dissident, Habib Chaab, on behalf of Iran

Tehran accuses Chaab, who was based in Sweden, of being a leading figure of an Arab separatist group known as the Arab Struggle Movement for the Liberation of Ahvaz (ASMLA), which Iran has designated as a terrorist organisation.

In April 2017, Said Karimian, the owner of a leading Persian-language satellite entertainment channel, GEM TV, was shot dead in his car by unknown individuals in Istanbul. 

Karimian was a British citizen of Iranian origin, and ran GEM TV from Dubai, offering Western programmes to Persian-speaking audiences, including US game shows and Turkish soaps.