Oxford became deeper embroiled in the Rafsanjani case this week, as an attempt was made to serve a judgement for torture on the son of the former President of Iran.
Detectives working on the order of a Canadian lawyer showed up at Wolfson College on Wednesday morning to deliver a judgement describing “unspeakably outrageous torture by the defendant or at his instigation” to Mehdi Hashemi Rafsanjani.
According to the detectives, when Rafsanjani was not available, they spoke to the college bursar and were “directed to [Mr Hashemi’s] pigeonhole, where we left the court papers”. The judgement was made by the Ontario Superior Court of Justice at the end of August in a case brought forward by Mr Houshang Bouzari, an Iranian businessman who fled to Canada after being imprisoned for seven months on Rafsanjani’s orders.
Mr Bouzari was kept in a notorious Iranian detention centre, was beaten and suffered multiple false executions after refusing to allow Rafsanjani to “supervise” an oil consultancy business he set up in the early 1990s.
The case was originally brought against Mr Hashemi in 2005, and he has not brought forward evidence against this. According to Mr Bouzari’s lawyer Mark Arnold, Rafsanjani does not have the right to appeal the judgement but could come back to the same court and have it set aside. He said: “If Mr Hashemi feels he has been wrongly treated, he is welcome back to explain why he did not provide a defence before.” Rafsanjani will be forced to pay £7.8 million compensation to Mr Bouzari and his family.
Attempts were also made to serve the judgement at the Oriental Institute, where Rafsanjani is studying for a DPhil in the Iranian constitution, and at St Antony’s College, where one of his admitting tutors is a member of academic staff.
The detectives said the admitting tutor at St Antony’s would not accept service of the documents, and told them he had “nothing to do with it”.
A copy of the court papers was also received by the University central offices at Welllington Square, but officials would not accept it as an official service of the judgement.
The detectives explained: “The documents have been delivered to the four addresses. We will produce a statement detailing exactly what we have done today and that will be filed to the court. We were instructed by Mark Arnold to deliver the documents.” They said this was one of the more “high end” services of court documents they had completed.
Mr Bouzari – who is now a Canadian citizen and has ongoing physical symptoms as a result of his torture – said: “It is not only a question of Oxford admitting a human rights violator into one of the most prestigious and oldest cultural institution in history of mankind as the Oxford authorities can simply argue they were not aware of this. The point is that the guy by no means is qualified nor even eligible to be granted such an honour – being admitted into DPhil program in Oxford. He simply lacks the basic credentials.”
The University admitted this month that Rafsanjani had been admitted for study with special dispensation for the English language requirements. Doubts have also been raised about Rafsanjani’s academic credentials, as his previous qualifications are in electrical engineering.
Kaveh Moussavi, who originally made the complaint to the University about Rafsanjani’s admission, said: “I warned the University a year ago this [service] would happen. It’s a mystery why they allow him to stay. They have allowed him to bring this University into disrepute.”
Several students have written to the University expressing their concern over the case – but have been “rebuffed” by Oxford officials.
One Iranian student said: “The University has expended a lot of energy keeping things under wraps. Attempts to learn more about this case have been completely rebuffed, as if students’ questions were completely inappropriate.
The attempt to serve Rafsanjani comes after a senior human rights lawyer expressed concern about Rafsanjani’s DPhil course at a seminar this month on the 1988 prison massacres in Iran, in which Rafsanjani’s father was implicated. Speaking at the symposium organised by the University’s Transitional Justice Research unit, Sir Geoffrey Robertson QC said: “I understand [Rafsanjani’s relative] is about to descend on Oxford in questionable circumstances…One would have thought the greedy academics who sucked up to Seif Gaddafi at LSE would have learnt their lesson, It’s not a lesson, I hope, Oxford would have to learn as well.”
A University spokesperson said: “It is unclear what status a default judgement in a civil Canadian court has in the English legal system or in the University’s regulations.”
Wolfson college referred questions to the central University press office. Rafsanjani said: ” I have learned about this judgment through Sunday Times article and have not been aware of it previously.
As you’re aware it is a judgment in absentia in which I didn’t get the chance to defend myself. I categorically deny all allegations brought forward in the proceeding and will challenge the judgment after getting legal advice in Canada.”