Muhammad Reza Naserzadeh is accused of forging travel documents for Ali Esfanjani, the man who allegedly masterminded the murder of Tehran dissident Masoud Molavi Vardanjan in Istanbul, to smuggle him to Iran.
Turkish authorities have arrested Muhammad Reza Naserzadeh, a staff member of the Iranian Consulate in Istanbul, for allegedly helping the man who masterminded the murder of Masoud Molavi Vardanjani in 2019 in the city, the Daily Sabah newspaper reported.
The 43-year-old is accused of forging documents for Ali Esfanjani, the alleged mastermind, to help him travel back to Iran after the assasination.
A man identified as Abdulvahap Kocak shot and killed Vardanjani on a street in Sisli district of Istanbul on November 14, 2019.
Vardanjani, a former intelligence operative for Iran, had launched a social media campaign after moving to Turkey in a bid to expose the corruption allegedly involving Iranian officials.
Naserzadeh, who was working at the civic registry department of the Consulate, was arrested earlier this week after a court issued an order to that effect following a testimony provided to investigators by Siyavash Abazari Shalamzari, a suspect who helped Esfanjani flee to Iran following the killing.
Naserzadeh in his testimony claimed that he was not present in Turkey when the murder took place and didn't know Esfanjani or other suspects in the case.
Shalamzari in his testimony claimed that he saw Naserzadeh accompanied by another man he identified as Haci Aga received Esfanjani from Tehran airport after the arrival of his plane.
“Esfanjani had a new ID under the name of Abbas. I called Haci to tell him that his name on the ID was wrong. He told me he would contact the consulate and asked me to proceed taking Esfanjani to Iran anyway,” he had said.
Several Iranian intelligence officers also welcomed Esfanjani at the airport, he further claimed.
Turkish authorities have arrested Iranian diplomat Muhammad Reza Naserzadeh for his alleged involvement in the murder of Tehran dissident Masoud Molavi Vardanjani. TRT World's Oubai Shahbandar reports pic.twitter.com/qxu5xwz8TH— TRT World Now (@TRTWorldNow) February 11, 2021
Vardanjani started living in Istanbul after fleeing Iran in June 2018 when a probe was launched against him.
He made frequent use of social media to speak about the corruption involving the Iranian administration and the Quds Force, a subsidiary of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps.
Esfanjani grew ties with Vardanjani and was sending information about him to the intelligence in Tehran.
Esfanjani accompanied Vardanjani to the Istanbul street where he was murdered in 2019.
According to an investigation, murder suspect Abdulvahap Kocak, who had ties to fugitive Iranian drug lord Naji Sharif Zindashti, had met Esfanjani before the killing.
Zindashti, who is still at large despite a number of charges against him in Turkey, was also implicated in the disappearance of Habib Chaab, another Iranian dissident who disappeared in October.
We were just attacked outside the Iranian consulate in Istanbul by a member of the consulate as we attempted to film and ask him if he had any comment on the recent arrest of an Iranian diplomat alleged to have been behind the assasination of Iranian dissident Masoud Vardanjani pic.twitter.com/ZOJKVzb26z— Oubai Shahbandar (@OS26) February 11, 2021
Habib Chaab, a prominent Ahwazi-Arab opposition figure, was drugged and kidnapped by a network working "on behalf of Iran's intelligence service" after being lured into flying to Turkey by an Iranian intelligence operative, a senior official said.
Iran's state media said in November that Iranian intelligence ministry officers arrested Chaab over suspected involvement in a 2018 attack on a military parade that killed dozens of people, without saying when or how he was detained.
Chaab, who came to Istanbul to meet his ex-wife on October 9, had been living in exile in Sweden for the past 14 years.
Security sources said that he met his ex-wife in a van at a petrol station where kidnappers drugged him and drove him to border city Van to be smuggled into Iran.
Thirteen suspects, including Kocak, were detained following the murder, while eight among them were remanded in custody.