Iranian-Austrian Businessman Arrested in Iran

Austrian media has reported that a 72-year-old Iranian-Austrian dual national has been held in Evin Prison since January 2019.

On July 31, Der Standard newspaper identified the prisoner as Massud Mossaheb, the secretary general of the Iranian-Austrian Friendship Society [German link].

More than seven months after his arrest and imprisonment, Foreign Ministry Spokesman Peter Guschelbauer has now announced that the Austrian government has demanded that Iran release Mossaheb. “It was not so long ago that Austria was seen as a possible mediator when other countries were trying to extract their citizens who had fallen into the meat grinder of Iranian justice,” the article in Der Standard, a left-liberal paper, reported. “Today, however, Austria has not succeeded in doing anything for its own citizens sitting in Iranian prisons.”

The report also reminded its readers of Kamran Ghaderi, another jailed Iranian-Austrian dual national. Ghaderi, who was arrested in January 2016, had previously traveled to Iran on several occasions for work and for business seminars, including as a member of the Austrian delegation to Tehran led by then-President Heinz Fischer in October 2015. At the time, following the nuclear agreement between Iran and six world powers, the Islamic Republic had made it a priority to improve economic and commercial ties with the world.

Ghaderi’s commercial relations with Iran, however, have a long history. He was the CEO of Avanoc, an IT management and consulting company, and had worked with the Iranian banking industry for more than 17 years. His company maintained the information systems for Tejarat (“Commerce”) Bank. According to his family, Kamran Ghaderi had provided Iranian banks with a major part of their digital security systems. His company worked closely with Sina Pardazesh, an Iranian software company run by Kamran’s brother Kambiz that sold advanced technology for digital signatures to countries including Jamaica, Cameroon, Zimbabwe and Bhutan.During all these years, the Austrian government demanded only one thing from Kamran Ghaderi’s wife Harika: silence. Now, seven months after the arrest of Massud Mossaheb, it is the Austrian foreign ministry that has broken the silence. The foreign ministry spokesman told Agence France-Presse that Alexander Schallenberg, the Austrian Foreign Minister, had written to his Iranian counterpart Mohammad Javad Zarif about Mossaheb and the Austrian embassy in Tehran has been active on the case.

Massud Mossaheb was one of the oldest and, at the same time, little-known Iranian residents of Vienna. His family, however, is quite well known in Iran. His father Gholam Hossein Mosaheb was the author of the highly praised Persian Encyclopedia and introduced Iranians to aspects of modern mathematics. Shams ul-Molook Mosaheb, Gholam Hossein’s sister, was a poet, writer and translator and one of the first Iranian women to become a senator. Their father, Dr. Mohammad Ali Mosaheb, was a well-known literary figure and politician.

Massud Mossaheb left Iran for Austria in 1965, years before the 1979 Islamic Revolution. Ten years later he completed his PhD in mechanical engineering from the Vienna University of Technology (TU Wien) and he was naturalized as an Austrian citizen in 1980. After the revolution he formed close ties with the embassy of the Islamic Republic in Vienna and for more than 20 years after the end of the Iran-Iraq war in 1988, he worked with the Iranian airline industry, providing airlines with spare parts for passenger planes and communication equipment.

For a while, his commercial activities subsided. Mossaheb had close relations with Baghaollah Vossough, director of the Austrian firm Cerag International, which sold equipment to Iran’s oil industry. Vossough was murdered in July 2010; the Austrian police reported that he was killed by a convicted fraudster and drug dealer who was identified only as Samad A., and who turned himself in to the police after he shot Vossough. The motive behind the killing remains unknown but, according to a report published in the newspaper the Telegraph, intelligence experts said the death was linked to a dispute over how the company would be wound up as the European Union adopted sanctions that would ban much of Austria’s trade with Iran.A Western diplomat based in Vienna told the Telegraph: “Iran has used Vienna as one of the main bases for its front companies to export equipment that is dual-use and has been diverted to assist its nuclear program. Partners in these firms are feeling the pressure as they divide their assets.” And an Austrian official said Cerag was issued with a winding up order two years ago but the authorities had never moved to enforce it.

“It’s the typical Viennese thing of not looking too closely and allowing things to go on as long as Austria has nothing at stake,” another diplomat said. “Vienna is a weak link when it comes to sanctions.”

After the suspicious murder of Vossough by an Iranian, Massud Mossaheb laid low for a few months.

Earlier, in 1991, Mossaheb had founded the Iranian-Austrian Friendship Society with the help of Austrian Foreign Minister Alois Mock and his Iranian counterpart Ali Akbar Velayati. The society is one of a few Vienna-based institutions that has close relations with the Islamic Republic’s embassy in the city.

“The main objectives of the ÖIG [the Iranian-Austrian Friendship Society] are the promotion of bilateral relations between the Republic of Austria and the Islamic Republic of Iran in economic, social, cultural, humanitarian, scientific and sporting fields,” declares the official site of the society [German link]. “One focus is on developing economic relations between the two countries, with ÖIG acting in close cooperation with the Austrian Federal Economic Chamber and the Tehran Foreign Trade Office. ÖIG has numerous contacts with Iranian authorities and can informally assist in initiating and maintaining contacts.”

“It is all the more amazing that Iran is targeting Massud Mossaheb of all people, a person who for a quarter century had committed himself to relations between Austria and Iran,” the Der Standard article says, According to the paper, at the time of his arrest, Mossaheb was accompanying a delegation representing Med Austron, a radiation therapy technology company jointly owned by Austria and Russia.

According to the Austrian newspaper Die Presse, the company had recently opened a branch near Tehran [German link]. Mossaheb’s associates in the Iranian-Austrian Friendship Society say that in recent years, at the request of the Islamic Republic, Mossaheb has been trying to expand the activities of the company in Iran, but he never gave them a clear account of what Med Austron was expected to do in the country.

“No formal charges have been brought against Mr. Mossaheb and the reason for his arrest is not known,” said the foreign ministry’s spokesman. But he is talking about the arrest seven months after it happened and, during this time, Vienna has hosted official negotiations between the Iranian foreign ministry and the representatives of the European Union at least twice. On June 25 and again on July 28, Iranian Deputy Foreign Minister Abbas Araghchi was in Vienna to meet with the representatives of the remaining signatories to the nuclear agreement.

“The family has been in contact with the Austrian Ministry of Foreign Affairs during the last six months,” the Der Standard article reports. However, the ‘silent diplomacy’ has produced no results as of now.”

“Iran sabotages itself,” wrote Gudrun Harrer, Der Standard’s editor for the Middle East, who is a professor of political science at the University of Vienna and an expert in Middle Eastern nuclear affairs. “If you want to work with Iran, officially or unofficially, remember that Iran arrests dual nationals. The Iranian government ignores second citizenship. The simplest way for not putting your life at risk is not to travel to Iran at all.”

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