Norway’s intelligence service has accused Iran of deliberate widespread academic “cheating” in order to send Iranian students to the the country with the intention of stealing technology secrets for the purposes of developing weapons.
Police Security Service (PST) section head Arne Christian Haugstøyl told local media Norwegian intelligence had been alarmed by the disproportionately high number of Iranian students with top marks applying to study in the Norwegian University of Science and Technology (NTNU) in Trondheim.
“We have seen a huge number of applicants from Iran for one special area of study at a Norwegian institution, to the extent that it looks like organized cheating,” Haugstøyl told the daily Aftenposten.
“All of the students are apparently top students, so one may question the authenticity of the papers they come with."
Haugstøyl also said the previous Iranian government had openly outlined a strategy to dodge sanctions by sending young Iranians to the West in order to gain insight into modern technologies.
NTNU’s university newspaper Universitetsavisa published new guidelines Tuesday to prevent the illegal transfer of knowledge after the PST raised its concerns, having previously published numerous articles about regulations that have caused many foreign doctoral candidates, mostly Iranians, to miss out on a residence permit to study in Norway.
One metallurgy scientist with a background of consultancy in the oil and gas industry, Shahin Akbarnejad, was among 52 Iranian scholars and students expelled by NTNU last year after the university was warned by the PST that he may be planning to use his research into aluminium purification for the development of illegal weapons in his home country.
“I simply cannot understand this,” Akbarnejad was quoted saying by The Local, which reported he is now suing the Norwegian immigration authorities to reverse the decision as he continues his research at the KTH Royal Institute of Technology in Stockholm, Sweden.
“I, my supervisors and NTNU have all delivered documentation showing that this research is completely open and that it has nothing to do with weapons development. I have never been even close to weapon developments...I have nothing to hide.”
Hamideh Kaffesh, another Iranian expelled from NTNU, is now spearheading an organization called Stop Educational Discrimination Against Iranians. She described the PST’s justification for their suspicion as a “paranoid example” that lacks evidence.
End of sanctions
Earlier this month, Iran agreed on the framework of a deal with world powers concerning its controversial nuclear program, which will prevent the country from developing nuclear weapons in return for the lifting of sanctions that have crippled its economy for decades.
The deal, announced April 2 in a joint statement by European Union Foreign Policy Chief Federica Mogherini and Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif in the Swiss city of Geneva, capped 18 months of intense negotiations between Iran, the United States, Russia, China, France, the United Kingdom and Germany.
The diplomats involved in the talks now have three months to transform the agreed framework into a comprehensive treaty before the June 30 deadline in order to implement the lifting of sanctions.
Almost immediately after the deal, it was announced that Turkey may consider making Iran a stakeholder in the planned Trans-Anatolian Natural Gas Pipeline (TANAP) if it adheres to certain commercial conditions.
Turkey’s Energy Minister Taner Yıldız made the claim following Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s official visit to Tehran, where a discount price of Iranian gas supplies was requested.
However, Iranian Oil Minister Bijan Namdar Zanganeh said Tuesday Turkey had rejected an offer for a discount on gas on the condition that imports from Iran are doubled.
Iran is also in discussions about exporting its gas to neighbors Iraq and Pakistan, as well as Oman in the Arabian Gulf.
Russia this week also announced the lifting of a ban to deliver an S-300 anti-missile system to Iran, in addition to unveiling an oil-for-goods swap deal within the framework of the nuclear agreement.
However, Norway's Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokesman Frode Andersen said it is still too early to comment.