RFL/RE – Iran’s Foreign Ministry has denied Turkish media reports alleging that an Iranian citizen recently arrested in Turkey is a consulate employee linked to the 2019 murder of an Iranian dissident in Istanbul.
“What has happened is the arrest of an Iranian national upon entry,” ministry spokesman Saeed Khatibzadeh told reporters on February 15, adding that Tehran was in contact with Turkish officials regarding the matter.
Khatibzadeh did not provide more details.
Last week, Turkey’s pro-government Sabah newspaper reported that a man identified as Mohammad Reza Naserzadeh was arrested on suspicion of planning the killing of Masud Molavi Vardanjani, a critic of Iran’s political and military leadership.
Reuters confirmed that Naserzadeh had been held over Vardanjani’s killing, but the news agency said it could not confirm Sabah’s allegation that the suspect worked at the civic registry department of the Iranian Consulate in Istanbul.
Vardanjani, a former Iranian intelligence operative who exposed corruption involving Iranian officials, was shot and killed in Istanbul on November 14, 2019 — a year after leaving Iran. He had been put under investigation by Iranian authorities.
A Turkish police report published in March 2020 said Vardanjani had worked in cybersecurity at Iran’s Defense Ministry before becoming a vocal critic of the Iranian regime.
Two senior Turkish officials told Reuters last year that Vardanjani’s killing was instigated by intelligence officials at the Iranian Consulate in Istanbul. One of the officials identified the two suspects by their initials, and one set of initials matched Naserzadeh’s.
A senior U.S. administration official said in April 2020 that Washington had grounds to believe that Iran’s Ministry of Intelligence and Security was directly involved in Vardanjani’s killing.
Iran has denied that any consulate staff had been involved in Vardanjani’s shooting death.
Last week, a Belgian court sentenced an Iranian diplomat to 20 years in prison on charges of planning an attack on an exiled opposition group.
It was the first trial of an Iranian official on terrorism charges in Europe since Iran’s 1979 revolution.