Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Case closed: Suspicious deaths of IRGC front company head and his wife not murder, says investigating magistrate

Mohammad Hossein Shamlou, investigating magistrate at the 1st branch of Tehran's criminal affairs division, declared today that the mysterious deaths of a director of a holding company close to the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) and his wife were accidental and caused by carbon monoxide poisoning.

Shahin Soleimanipour's lifeless body was found in her home in Tehran's exclusive Ozgol neighborhood on December 10, 2009. Her husband Majid was discovered unconscious and transferred to Shahid Chamran Hospital where he was declared dead.

View Ozgol district, Tehran in a larger map

The case would not have gained any more prominence than a short mention in the inside pages of newspapers, except for two facts. The deaths occurred at a time of heightened tension in a country known for mysterious and convenient disappearances. And, more intriguingly, Majid Soleimanipour was the managing director and member of the board of directors of the Tosse'eh Etemad Mobin company.

The consortium that Soleimanipour managed appears to have been a front company of the IRGC and had on September 27 bought a controlling stake in the Telecommunication Company of Iran for $8 billion in a purchase that was both rigged and the largest transaction in the history of the Tehran stock exchange. The operation provoked concern about the IRGC's increased ability to monitor telephone and Internet communications. Since the sale of the telecom stock was ostensibly carried out in line with the government's privatization drive, the Majlis launched a subsequent investigation in order to determine whether the company had simply been traded from one state body to another.

The consortium is made up of three companies: Tosse'eh Etemad, Shahriar Mahestan, and Iran Mobin Electronics Development Company, according to Masoumeh Taherkhani writing in Donyayeh Eghtesad. Tosse'eh Etemad and Shahriar Mahestan investment companies are directly run by the IRGC's social affairs mutual fund. Mobin Electronics belongs to the Setadeh Ejraieh Farman Emam (The Staff for the Enforcement of the Imam's Decree), a labyrinthine foundation directly under the authority of Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei's office. (for a previous article on the telecom purchase, click here)

Davoud Zareian, Telecommunications Company of Iran spokesman, said that Soleimanipour had been working until 10 PM Wednesday evening and that the couple's dead bodies had been discovered in their bedroom. His comments were contradicted by the judiciary's official statement which said that Soleimanpour had been found in another room and that he had still exhibited a weak pulse before being taken to the hospital.

Seyed Massoud Miri, spokesman for the Tosse'eh Etemad Mobin consortium, said that the couple's son had found them on Thursday morning. In response to a question about why the son had not suffered from carbon monoxide poisoning, Miri said that the son slept in another room.

Soleimanpour had close links to the IRGC. He was a senior official at Imam Hossein University, which is under the authority of the Revolutionary Guards. According to some reports, he was the acting commander of the institution. He wrote for the Imam Hossein University's Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering Journal, though it was not possible to confirm the claims of some sources that he was the quarterly's editor several years ago. Soleimanipour was also a senior member of the Iranian Society of Cryptology, set up by the research division of the IRGC. The ISC even issued a statement of condolence following Soleimanipour's death. The Tosse'eh Etemad Mobin consortium's public relations office states that he obtained a doctorate in computer science and information technology from a Canadian university.

Given the sensitive nature of the case, senior officials quickly became involved. A day after the bodies were discovered, Tehran Prosecutor Abbas Jafari Dolatabadi told the Islamic Republic News Agency that no signs of violence had been observed on the victims and that they had passed away from carbon monoxide poisoning. Jafari Dolatabadi said that the room containing the house's heating unit had been sealed off. 'The next of kin have not mentioned murder,' the prosecutor added helpfully, saying that the matter would be investigated.

Mohammad Hossein Shamlou, investigating magistrate of the 1st branch of the Tehran criminal affairs division, was tasked with the investigation. Today Shamlou offered his findings to Fars News in a terse statement, which given the importance of the case appears both overly succinct and cavalier. 'The gas company's experts have determined that the cause of death of the late Soleimani (sic), purchaser of the telecom's stocks, was a gas leak in the evacuation pipes of the furnace room,' Shamlou said, not explaining what part of legal procedures in the Islamic Republic allows gas company experts to determine the cause of death.

'The gas company claims that the evacuation pipes are cracked in many places,' Shamlou told Fars News, apparently not having seen the cracks himself and taking the gas company's word for it.

Shamlou's powers of deduction also allowed him to conclude, 'The person responsible for the furnace room, the house's builder, and the overseeing engineer are at fault.'

Case closed.