Belgian court to give verdict in Iran diplomat case on January 22

This file photo taken on June 30, 2018 shows people holding pictures of relatives killed by the Mohllas regime, during “Free Iran 2018 — the Alternative” event in Villepinte, north of Paris during the Iranian resistance national council (CNRI) annual meeting. (AFP)
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Updated 04 December 2020

Belgian court to give verdict in Iran diplomat case on January 22

  • Assadollah Assadi, a 48-year-old diplomat formerly based in Vienna, faces 20 years in prison if convicted
  • Assadi denies any involvement in the plot, which was foiled by security services

BRUSSELS: A Belgian court will deliver its verdict on Jan. 22 in the trial of an Iranian diplomat accused of plotting to bomb an exiled opposition group’s rally, his lawyer told AFP.
Assadollah Assadi, a 48-year-old diplomat formerly based in Vienna, faces 20 years in prison if convicted of plotting to target the rally in Villepinte, outside Paris, on June 30, 2018.
The rally included the People’s Mojahedin of Iran (MEK), which Tehran considers a “terrorist group” and has banned since 1981.
Assadi denies any involvement in the plot, which was foiled by security services, and has refused to appear at Antwerp Criminal Court, where he is on trial with three alleged accomplices.
On Thursday, the second and last day of the hearing, the three maintained their innocence.
Lawyers for Nasimeh Naami and Amir Saadouni — a Belgian-Iranian couple arrested in possession of a bomb in their car on their way to France — claimed the explosive was not powerful enough to kill.
The lawyer for the third alleged accomplice, Mehrdad Arefani, described by the prosecution as a relative of Assadi, has refuted his involvement and also pleaded for his acquittal.
Prosecutors are seeking an 18-year jail term for the couple and 15 for Arefani.
The target of the alleged bomb plot was a meeting of the National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI), an exiled opposition movement, outside Paris which was attended by several allies of US President Donald Trump, including former New York mayor Rudy Giuliani.
Naami and Saadouni were arrested in Brussels the same day while, separately, German police on July 1 arrested Assadi, who allegedly handed the couple the explosives at a June meeting in Luxembourg.
Through his lawyer Dimitri de Beco, Assadi again protested that he should not have been deprived of his diplomatic immunity.
The verdict will be delivered at 1:00 p.m. (1200 GMT) on January 22.
The case has caused tensions between Iran and several European countries and shone an uncomfortable light on Tehran’s international activities.
In October 2018, France accused Iran’s ministry of intelligence of being behind the alleged attack.
Tehran has strongly denied the charges.


Dutch government collapses over benefits scandal

Updated 53 min 21 sec ago

Dutch government collapses over benefits scandal

  • Parents being targeted for investigation because they had dual nationality also underscored long-standing criticisms of systemic racism in the Netherlands
  • The row threatens to leave the Netherlands without a government in the midst of a surge in cases of a new Covid-19 variant

THE HAGUE: Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte’s government resigned on Friday over a child benefits scandal, media reported, threatening political turmoil as the country battles the coronavirus pandemic.
Thousands of parents were wrongly accused by Dutch authorities of fraudulently claiming child allowance, with many of them forced to pay back large amounts of money and ending up in financial ruin.
The fact that some parents were targeted for investigation by tax officials because they had dual nationality also underscored long-standing criticisms of systemic racism in the Netherlands.
Dutch media said Rutte was due to give a statement at 1315 GMT about the resignation of his four-party coalition cabinet, which comes just two months before the Netherlands is due to hold a general election on March 17.
A hard-hitting parliamentary investigation in December said civil servants cut off benefits to thousands of families wrongly accused of fraud between 2013 and 2019.
The row threatens to leave the Netherlands without a government in the midst of a surge in cases of a new Covid-19 variant that first emerged in Britain.
Rutte had opposed the cabinet’s resignation, saying the country needs leadership during the pandemic.
He had however said that if it resigned he could be authorized to lead a caretaker government until elections — in which polls say his Freedom and Democracy Party would likely come first.
Other parties in the coalition had pushed for the government to take responsibility for the scandal, which Dutch media said some 26,000 people had been affected.
They could have also faced a confidence vote in parliament next week.
Pressure mounted on the government after opposition Labour party chief Lodewijk Asscher, who was social affairs minister in Rutte’s previous cabinet, resigned on Thursday over the scandal.
Victims also lodged a legal complaint Tuesday against three serving ministers and two former ministers including Asscher.
Many were required to pay back benefits totalling tens of thousands of euros (dollars).
Tax officials were also revealed to have carried out “racial profiling” of 11,00 people based on their dual nationality, including some of those hit by the false benefit fraud accusations.
The Dutch government announced at least 30,000 euros in compensation for each parent who was wrongly accused but it has not been enough to silence the growing clamour over the scandal.
Rutte has led three coalition governments since 2010, most recently winning elections in 2017 despite strong opposition from far-right leader Geert Wilders.
Polls say he is likely to win a fourth term in the next election, with public opinion still largely backing his handling of the coronavirus crisis.