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By Lizzie Porter
The son of a former Iranian President has been found culpable of torture and has been ordered to pay his victim millions of dollars in compensation while studying for a DPhil at Oxford.
Mehdi Hashemi Rafsanjani – who was admitted to the University with a “let-off clause” for language skills – had a judgement brought against him by the Ontario Superior Court of Justice in August for ordering the torture of a Iranian businessman who refused to surrender control of his oil consultancy to Rafsanjani and pay a demanded $50 million.
In the judgement made against the 42-year-old, seen exclusively by this newspaper, the judge described how Mr Houshang Bouzari suffered “unspeakably outrageous torture at the hands of the defendant or at his instigation”.
The judgement – made because Rafsanjani failed to respond to the initial case made in 2005 – ordered the son of Iran’s former ruler to pay £7.8 million to Mr Bouzari and his family in compensation.
Speaking for the first time since the judgement was made, Mr Bouzari said: “This is beyond redemption for Oxford. The internationally renowned University has more than five centuries spearheading humanity and the right of man. A solid embodiment of science and culture, by admitting a blissfully semi ignorant, not even well educated torturer’s accomplice like Mehdi Hashemi proved me wrong.”
The judge ordered a payment of £2.3 million to Mr Bouzari, and about £1.8 million to members of his family. The judge also ordered Rafsanjani to pay an extra five percent interest per year from 27th June 1994, when Mr Bouzari finally fled Iran.
The judge stated: “General damages are difficult to quantify as the quality of life for these plaintiffs has been permanently diminished and the psychiatric sequele are continuing. The conduct of the defendant is of such heinous quality that punitive damages in very significant magnitude is, in my view, clearly called for”.
Mr Bouzari has been left with permanent physical damage after the torture ordered by Rafsanjani. During his seven month imprisonment in the early 1990s, he was subject to multiple false executions and his feet were beaten so badly that they have been left permanently swollen by three shoe sizes. Repeated beating over the head has left him deaf in one ear and he has disk damage in his back from hanging in his cell.
He has lived in Canada since he was forced to flee Iran after his imprisonment.
Mehdi Hashemi Rafsanjani is currently registered at Wolfson College, reading for a DPhil in the Iranian constitution.
As part of a sixth month long investigation, The Oxford Student has uncovered links with the inner circles of the Libyan regime and a catalogue of inconsistencies relating to his acceptance by Oxford, including:
His admission is likely to raise further questions about UK universities’ links with the Middle East. In March this year the Director of the London School of Economics was forced to resign over a £300,000 donation from an organisation headed by Gaddafi’s son.
In a sign that the Rafsanjani case could have serious consequences on donations to the University, a senior professor has already pulled out of giving a significant sum to Oxford.
Professor Reza Sheikholeslami, emeritus Professor of Persian Studies, who swore on oath that Rafsanjani had paid for help writing his application and that he did not meet the language and residency requirements, said that the “secrecy” and “cover up” over the Rafsanjani admission had led to his decision not to donate.
A complaint was initially made about Rafsanjani’s credentials to study at Oxford late last year by Kaveh Moussavi, lawyer and an associate fellow at the University’s Centre for Socio-Legal Studies.
Mr Moussavi said that Rafsanjani did not meet the English Language requirements, did not have the qualifications to apply for a DPhil and was not complying with the residency rules for DPhil candidates.
Mr Moussavi added: “I am very sorry that the University I attended has engaged in subterfuge to keep this scandal under wraps. Oxford has bent over backwards to let this man in and keep him here.
“I have absolutely no doubt in my mind that Rafsanjani does not have the credentials to study at Oxford.”
A telephone call made by The Oxford Student this week to the Azad University in Tehran confirmed that Rafsanjani is in fact currently the institution’s inspector of external branches. Rafsanjani also confirmed this earlier this year, saying in a press statement: “Given that the examination of the external branches were committed to me, whilst I was inspecting the branch of the Free [Azad] University in Oxford, I decided to study at the University of Oxford.”
Rafsanjani has a Master’s degree in Energy Systems Engineering from Sharif Industrial University, the qualification Mr Moussavi said was not adequate for Humanities DPhil study. His certificate details how “the son of Akbar has successfully finished a training course equivalent to master degree in Energy Systems Engineering”, issued in 2009 for a degree completed in 2006. The qualification was awarded in accordance “between Sharif Industrial University (Department of Energy Systems) and State organization for optimization of fuel consumption” – where Mehdi Hashemi had had an executive post, and held a postal address in 2005.
In a sign of Rafsanjani’s links to regimes in the Middle East, in 2007 he was invited by Saif al-Islam Gaddafi to visit Libya. A letter to the Libyan ambassador in Tehran instructs: “In reference to his Excellency Engineer Mehdi Hashemi Bahremani’s trip originated from Seif Ghaddafi’s invitation, please instruct to issue proper entry visa for him.”
Rafsanjani’s admission to Oxford was reviewed by Dr Homa Katouzian, a member of the Oriental Institute who teaches 20th century Iranian history.
Katouzian said he did not know that the application was from the son of Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, who ruled Iran between 1989 and 1997. When contacted by Mr Moussavi to ask if Rafsanjani had had the credentials, Katouzian replied, “I suppose so”. In addition, an email dated 3rd June 2010 from Edmund Herzig, the current Professor of Persian studies who also saw Mehdi Hashemi’s application, to Katouzian, says: “As well as our usual business…we have a DPhil application from Mehdi Hashemi.”
Katouzian is on a non-advertised fellowship funded by a charity whose chair has had a deal worth millions of pounds with an airline that is widely reported as having been founded by the Rafsanjani family.
His £2000-a-year post is funded by the Iran Heritage Foundation, a charity whose chairman Mr Vahid Alaghband had a multimillion dollar deal with another of his businesses in breach of a US embargo with Mahan Air. Katouzian is also on the “Academic Council” of the IHF.
When contacted, Katouzian repeated his claim that he did not know who Mehdi Hashemi was when he saw his application, and the IHF said no-one was available.
Rafsanjani claimed in a press statement earlier this year that his admission had involved a nine month-long process and three interviews with relevant academic staff.
But a Statement of Truth from Mr Moussavi details a meeting on 2nd December 2010 with Edmund Herzig describing the “conspiracy to admit this man”. The statement details “Edmund Herzig telling me that Mr Hashemi was not interviewed…they do not normally interview for graduate studies.”
The statement also describes Herzig’s “acute surprise” at Katouzian’s suggestion he did not know the identity of Rafsanjani: “Herzig not only said he was surprised at this comment made by Dr Katouzian but confirmed that he had been intimately involved and very supportive of the admission of Mr Hashemi.”
Herzig said he had no comment to make further to University Press Office statements.
Evidence of the circumstances under which Rafsanjani was admitted comes from multiple sources. Earlier this year Professor Sheikholeslami signed a sworn affidavit to say Rafsanjani has been let off the English language requirement. In documents released under the Freedom of Information act, the University said: “One student was given special dispensation from the English language requirement”. The University refused to name the student because the media “have already reported the name of the student and the fact he was given a waiver from the English language requirement.”
The Registrar wrote to Mr Moussavi to say that his complaint about Mr Hashemi’s admission would lead to a review of the admissions process as a “matter of urgency”. A letter from the Registrar Ewan McKendrick to Pro-Vice-Chancellor Sally Mapstone – written the same day and marked with the same reference number as the letter to Mr Moussavi - stated the need for a review of the graduate admissions process. The letter – marked “strictly confidential”- noted the same areas that Mr Moussavi complained about. The aspects the Registrar asked to be reviewed included “whether we should require applicants for graduate courses formally to certify that any work submitted or research proposal submitted is the work of the applicant…the circumstances in which the English Language requirement may be waived…and the steps taken by colleges and departments to enforce University residence requirements”.
Mr Moussavi said: “The University’s response can best be summed up as breathtaking shamelessness. They found nothing, they said. Yet they urgently asked the [Education committee] to review the rules.”
Rafsanjani did not respond to a written request for comment.
A University spokesperson said: “Sir Peter North has investigated allegations made about the admission of the postgraduate student and has found no basis for the University to institute formal proceedings against the student in relation to these claims. The investigation also found no evidence of impropriety on the part of the admitting tutor.” They had no comment on the default judgement.