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ELAHI v. ISLAMIC REPUBLIC OF IRAN

December 20, 2000

DARIUSH ELAHI, INDIVIDUALLY AND AS NEXT-OF-KIN AND REPRESENTATIVE OF THE ESTATE OF CYRUS ELABI, PLAINTIFF,
V.
THE ISLAMIC REPUBLIC OF IRAN AND THE IRANIAN MINISTRY OF INFORMATION AND SECURITY, DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Joyce Hens Green, District Judge.

FINDINGS OF FACT AND CONCLUSIONS OF LAW

This is an action for wrongful death brought by Dariush Elahi,*fn1 the brother of Cyrus Elahi, a United States national, who, before he was killed on October 23, 1990 in Paris, France, was a former university professor and a dissident of the Iranian regime. The Islamic Republic of Iran and the Iranian Ministry of Information and Security are named as defendants for ordering the killing of Cyrus Elahi in an act of state-sponsored assassination. Jurisdiction in this case is founded upon those provisions of the Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act of 1976 ("FSIA"), as amended, 28 U.S.C. § 1602-1611, that grant jurisdiction over foreign states and their officials and agents and that create federal causes of action for personal injury or death to American nationals resulting from state-sponsored terrorism.

Defendants have failed to enter an appearance in this lawsuit, notwithstanding the fact that service of process was made upon them in accordance with the statutory procedures. See 28 U.S.C. § 1608 (a)(4).*fn2 On August 14, 2000, pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1608 (e) and Fed. R.Civ.P. 55(a), the Court entered an order of default against the defendants. Before the Court may enter a judgment by default in a specific monetary amount against the defendants, the FSIA provides that the plaintiff "establish [ ] his claim or right to relief by evidence that is satisfactory to the Court." 28 U.S.C. § 1608 (e).*fn3 Accordingly, on November 8 and 9, 2000, the Court conducted a non-jury trial*fn4 at which the plaintiff presented the testimony of seven witnesses: Kenneth Roger Timmerman, Executive Director, Foundation for Democracy; Ladan Boroumand, Ph.D.; Jacques S. Boedels, Armand, Boedels & Associates; Dariush Elahi; Jerome S. Paige, Ph.D.; Patrick J. Clawson, Ph. D.; and Manouchehr Ganji, Secretary-General, Flag of Freedom Organization. Documentary evidence consisting of 106 exhibits also was introduced in support of plaintiff's claims. Because Iran has presented no defense, the Court will accept as true the plaintiff's uncontroverted evidence. See Higgins v. Islamic Republic of Iran, No. 99-377 (D.D.C. Sept. 21, 2000) (Kollar-Kotelly, J.); cf. Alejandre v. Republic of Cuba, 996 F. Supp. 1239, 1243 (S.D.Fla. 1997) (accepting as true the plaintiff's "uncontroverted factual allegations").

This Court has engaged in a systematic review of the evidence presented by the plaintiff and the legal issues raised by plaintiff's claim for relief. Upon the evidence adduced at trial, from which the following facts are found pursuant to Fed. R.Civ.P. 52(a), the Court concludes that, as required by 28 U.S.C. § 1608 (e), the plaintiff has "establish[ed] his claim or right to relief by evidence that is satisfactory to the court." Accordingly, judgment shall be rendered in favor of the plaintiff as more fully set forth below.

FINDINGS OF FACT

1. The defendant, the Islamic Republic of Iran ("Iran"), is a foreign state that was founded in 1979 by Ayatollah Khomeini following the overthrow of the prior government of the Shah of Iran. In 1989, after the death of Ayatollah Khomeini, Ali-Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani became President and remained in that position into the 1990's. The current President of Iran is Mohammed Khatemi.

2. The United States Department of State has designated Iran as being a leading sponsor of terrorism for over a decade. Iran's direct support of terrorist activities has prompted the United States to suspend diplomatic relations, impose trade restrictions, and participate in the international embargo of the country. See, e.g., Iran and Libya Sanctions Act of 1996, Pub.L. 104-72, 10th Cong., 2d Sess. (Aug. 5, 1996), 110 Stat. 1541; 31 C.F.R. § 596.201 (prohibiting exports and sales to Iran). President Clinton recently reaffirmed and renewed sanctions against Iran when on March 15, 2000, he issued a Notice continuing the "national emergency" with respect to Iran "[b]ecause the actions and policies of the Government of Iran," including "its support for international terrorism," continue to "threaten the security, foreign policy and economy of the United States." Exhibit 15.

3. Iran uses several different organizations to carry out its pattern of terrorist activities. One of these organizations is the defendant Ministry of Information and Security ("MOIS"), the Iranian intelligence service.*fn5 With approximately 30,000 employees, MOIS is the largest intelligence agency in the Middle East and has an approximate annual budget of between $100-$400 million. See Anderson, 90 F. Supp.2d at 112-13 (finding MOIS's approximate annual budget between $100-$500 million). The United States Department of State has concluded that Iranian intelligence services facilitate and direct terrorist attacks, including attacks against regime opponents living abroad. Moreover, this policy is conducted with the "approval of the highest levels of the Iranian regime. . . ."*fn6 United States Department of State, Patterns of Global Terrorism: 1991, April 1992, at 30; Exhibit 3.

4. At the time of the events at issue in this case, the Iranian Minister of Intelligence and head of MOIS was Ayatollah Fallahian. As explained by Dr. Clawson, Minister Fallahian actively participated in the creation of MOIS and was the most important decision maker within the organization.

5. Individuals implicated in the killing of Cyrus Elahi confirmed, under oath, to French authorities that Minister Fallahian was involved in ordering the killings of Iranian dissidents in Paris. Exhibit 58, p. 4; Exhibit 59, p. 110. German prosecutorial authorities, moreover, have issued a warrant for Minister Fallahian's arrest for ordering the 1992 assassination of Iranian Kurdish dissidents in Germany. In a 1992 interview on Iranian television, Minister Fallahian discussed MOIS' success in eliminating opponents of the regime, stating: "[W]e track them abroad too . . . . Last year we succeeded in striking fundamental blows to their top members." Exhibit 74; Tr. 341 (Ganji); Exhibit 45; Exhibit 46.

6. Following the establishment of the Islamic Republic of Iran, a number of organizations were formed outside the country in opposition to the clerical government. Mr. Timmerman, an expert on the Iranian government's sponsorship of terrorism, identified several of these opposition groups: the Flag of Freedom Organization, founded by Dr. Manoucher Ganji, the former Minister of Education in the Shah's regime, and his assistant, Cyrus Elahi; the Kurdish Democratic Party of Iran, which advocates a secular democracy for Kurds living in Northern Iran; the National Council of Resistance, which is dominated by the People's Mojahedin of Iran, an allegedly Marxist organization, based in Turkey and Iraq; the Constitutional Monarchist Organization; and the National Resistance Movement, organized by the exiled former Iranian Prime Minister Shahpour Bakhtiar, and his deputy Abdolrahman Boroumand, who, according to Kenneth Timmerman, were later both assassinated by agents of the Iranian government.

8. According to Dr. Clawson, the Iranian government's initial campaign of assassinations proved successful and, accordingly, the clerics consolidated their power in Iran. A renewed concentration of assassinations began in 1989 following the end of the Iran-Iraq war and the death of the Ayatollah Khomeini. At that time, Mr. Rafsanjani assumed the presidency of Iran and in order to solidify his power, the government "redoubled its activities" to eliminate opponents of the regime. Tr. 235 (Clawson). Dr. Clawson explained that based upon his research, he determined that "Mr. Rafsanjani devoted a lot of attention, a lot of resources" to directing these assassinations and evidence of direct Iranian involvement in those assassinations comes "from numerous accounts just how much priority Mr. Rafsanjani placed on this campaign." Tr. 235 (Clawson). Dr. Clawson testified that there were a "great many killings" during this campaign, and Iran "assassinated some of the top leaders of the major [opposition] organizations." Tr. 237, 240-41 (Clawson).

9. The scope of the terrorist activities launched against those organizations opposed to the current Iranian government and others has been worldwide. The testimony and documentary evidence introduced at trial, including reports by the United States and foreign governmenta authorities, human rights groups, and the world press indicate that Iran and MOIS have authorized, sponsored, and directed the assassination of critics and opponents of the Iranian regime in countries throughout the world. Criminal investigations in both France and Germany and the decisions of the courts of those countries have found evidence of direct involvement by the government of Iran, MOIS, and Minister Fallahian in the killings of opponents of the Tehran regime. Exhibits 58, 59 (France); Exhibits 18, 46, 47, 48 (Germany). The Parliamentary Human Rights Group of the Palace of Westminster in Great Britain has documented the Iranian government's "use of terrorism as an adjunct to foreign policy." Exhibit 17, p. 5 Amnesty International has issued reports describing Iran's use of torture, terrorism and possible assassination as instruments of state policy. Reports in the world press have further documented the actions of the Iranian government in oppressing its political opponents.

10. The Flag of Freedom Organizatior ("FFO") is an opposition group, founded by Dr. Manoucher Ganji, a former Professor of International Law at Tehran University and Minister of Education under the Shah's regime. The FF0 is a democratic movement whose stated aims and purposes are the realization of the right and freedoms of the Iranian people and the establishment of a pluralistic and parliamentary democracy in Iran. Through the operation of a radio station in Egypt and the distribution of videotapes and printed materials, the FF0 provided news and information worldwide about events in Iran and the suppression of individual rights and free speech within that country. The FFO also organized resistance networks within Iran and in Turkey, which borders on Iran and has a large Persian community. The Tehran regime was extremely concerned about the FFO's radio broadcasts into Iran, and sought to stop the transmission.

11. Dr. Ganji's key assistant in building in FFO was Cyrus Elahi, whom Dr. Ganji had known for many years. Dr. Elahi was born in Iran in 1943. He came to the United States in 1958 with his mother and three siblings to join his father who previously had emigrated to the United States to pursue his medical education. In 1961, Dr. Elahi and his siblings became naturalized United States citizens. Cyrus Elahi attended school in the United States and received his undergraduate degree and his Ph.D. from American University in Washington, DC.

12. In the 1970's Dr. Elahi returned to Iran. Dr. Elahi became an assistant professor of political science at the National University in Tehran and, with Dr. Ganji, participated in a "think tank" that submitted reports on Iranian economic, social, and political developments to the wife of the Shah "in the hope of improving the situation." Tr. 274-75 (Ganji). When Dr. Ganji was named Minister of Education, Dr. Elahi became his close advisor.

13. Following the Khomeini revolution in 1979, both Dr. Ganji and Dr. Elahi went into hiding. A list of 200 individuals, including Dr. Ganji and Dr. Elahi, deemed to be opponents and enemies of the new regime and calling for their arrest, was posted in the mosques throughout Iran. According to Dr. Ganji, in addition to the posting of this list, a Fatwa (religious edict) has been issued calling for Dr. Ganji's death and both Dr. Ganji and Dr. Elahi understood that a similar edict was issued for Dr. Elahi's assassination.*fn8

14. After the revolution, Dr. Elahi bid Dr. Ganji in his home and, then, assisted Dr. Ganji in fleeing Iran. After aiding Dr. Ganji in his escape, Dr. Elahi and his wife fled the country shortly thereafter. Both Dr. Ganji and Dr. Elahi settled in the United States. For several years, Dr. Elahi lived in Texas, California, and Michigan. At that time, Dr. Elahi's sister was attending the University of Michigan, and he became an associate professor of political science at Michigan State University, in part, to be close to her. Later, Dr. Elahi left his teaching position to join Dr. Ganji, who was then living in Dallas, Texas, to assist him in running an educational and cultural foundation.

15. In 1985, Dr. Ganji relocated to Paris to work with other Iranian exiles in seeking a free and democratic Iran. In mid-1986, Dr. Elahi joined Dr. Ganji in Paris and both of them established the Flag of Freedom Organization to actively promote the establishment of a pluralistic society in Iran.

16. In October 1990, French authorities informed Dr. Ganji that they had uncovered a plan to assassinate him, and, at their suggestion, he left Paris and went to Egypt. At the time, Dr. Elahi was in Munich, Germany. However, he returned to Paris and on the morning of October 23, 1990, as he was leaving his apartment building, Dr. Elahi was shot eight times and killed by an assassin using a gun with a silencer. Exhibit 59, p. 82. Although Dr. Elahi normally did not leave his apartment building unaccompanied, on the morning he was assassinated, he was delayed and missed the colleague whom he customarily would meet to accompany him to the FFO offices.

17. As the attorney for the Elahi family in France, Mr. Boedels reviewed the investigatory reports and the evidence compiled by Jean-Louis Bruguiere, Senior Examining Magistrate of the District Court of Paris. Exhibits 58, 59. Judge Bruguiere opened two files on the Elahi assassination, the first for his murder and the second for "association of wrongdoers," which is equivalent to a charge of conspiracy. Tr. 120 (Boedels). Judge Bruguiere's inquiry into Dr. Elahi's death implicated two Iranian nationals living in Paris, Mojtaba Mashadi and Hossein Yazdanseta.

18. According to the French indictment of Mr. Mashadi, handed down by the Appellate Court of Paris, Second Criminal Panel, a gun and a silencer were found on the premises of Dr. Elahi's apartment building.

19. Under interrogation, Mr. Yazdanseta confessed to having been part of a plot, to assassinate Iranian political dissidents in Paris. Mr. Yazdanseta stated under oath to Judge Bruguiere that Mr. Mashadi had stated that he had been entrusted in Tehran with the organization of the assassination of Cyrus Elahi. Exhibit 58 at 11; Exhibit 59 at 96-99. According to Mr. Yazdanseta's sworn statement to Judge Brugniere, he had a conversation with Mr. Mashadi in July or August of 1993 at Mr. Mashadi's home. During that conversation, Mr. Mashadi admitted that he was the organizer of the operation to assassinate Cyrus Elahi, that a gun and silencer had been given to him in Paris by Iranian contacts, and that he had enlisted a Mr. Ghorbanifar to assassinate Cyrus Elahi, but that Mr. Ghorbanifar had backed out at the last minute. Exhibit 59 at 97-99. According to Mr. Yazdanseta's sworn statement, the assassination was then carried out by another team of two or three men, but Mr. Mashadi had not given him any more information how the assassination was carried out. In referring the indictment of Mojtaba Mashadi to the Court of Assize of Paris, the Appellate Court of Paris relied on, among other things, the fact that Mr. Yazdanseta stated under oath that Mr. Mashadi had confide to him that he had been put in charge of organizing the assassination of Cyrus Elahi. Exhibit 59 at 83.

20. Other witnesses testified that Mr Mashadi was a MOIS agent in France and that he had traveled to Iran to meet with Minister Fallahian and Minister Fallahian had given orders to Mashadi to assassinate dissidents. Mr. Boedels testified to this Court that Mr. Ghorbanifar had stated under oath to Judge Bruguiere that Mr. Mashadi had told him that he had been to Iran and met with Minister Fallahian. According to the record of Mr. Ghorbanifar's testimony under oath to Judge Bruguiere, taken on April 11, 1995, Mr. Mashadi told Mr. Ghorbanifar that he had been to Tehran in November 1989 and met with Minister Fallahian and other members of MOIS. Mr. Mashadi told Mr. Ghorbanifar that he had been put in charge of organizing the assassination of Dr. Ganji and several other dissidents (but did not mention Dr. Elahi). This conversation took place upon Mr. Mashadi's return from Tebran. According to Mr. Ghorbanifar, Mr. Mashadi told him this in an attempt to gain his assistance in carrying out the assassination of Dr. Ganji. Instead, Mr. Ghorbanifar revealed the information to the French authorities, who alerted Dr. Ganji to the threat.

21. Mr. Ghorbanifar also testified to Judge Bruguiere that in 1989, he accompanied Mr. Mashadi to a meeting at the Orly; airport. Also present at this meeting, according to Mr. Ghorbanifar, was Ali Ahani, the Iranian Ambassador; Mr. Anguizi, the manager of Iran Air; and a man identified as Bagher. Later, according to Mr. Ghorbanifar, Mr. Mashadi identified Bagher as an agent of Iran.

23. On December 29, 1993, Mr. Ali Reza Ghanaee Miandoab was questioned by the French police. Mr. Miandoab stated that in December 1992, Mojtaba Mashadi, whom he had known for about thirty years, had asked him whether he would assist in the assassination of an individual named Shafa and Dr. Ganji. Mr. Miandoab declined the request. According to Mr. Miandoab, Mr. Mashadi further stated that he was acting on behalf of the Iranian intelligence and that he had arranged for Mr. Ghorbanifar to kill Cyrus Elahi, but that he had backed out. Finally, Mr. Mashadi stated to Mr. Miandoab that Iranian intelligence agents, with whom he had contact in Iran, had been sent to Paris to carry out the assassination of Cyrus Elahi. Exhibit 59 at 108.

24. The evidence gathered by Judge Bruguiere strongly indicates that the original plot, as conceived by MOIS, was to assassinate a number of individuals opposed to the Tebran regime, including Dr. Ganji, Dr. Cyrus Elahi, and others. Tr. 130 (Boedels). According to Mr. Boedels, who testified to this Court, Mr. Mashadi importuned Mr. Yazdanseta and Mr. Ghorbanifar to carry out the plot. Mr. Mashadi offered Mr. Yazdanseta money to take the photograph of Dr. Ganji or Cyrus Elahi and told him that he would be paid an additional sum if he would kill the person so identified. Tr. 131 (Boedels). Mr. Mashadi also enlisted the assistance of Mr. Ghorbanifar. However, Mr. Ghorbanifar did not continue with the conspiracy. Instead, he contacted the French secret service and provided information to the French authorities. Mr. Ghorbanifar's revelations prompted the French authorities to warn Dr. Ganji that his assassination was imminent.

25. In addition to testimony obtained through the interrogation of Messrs. Mashadi, Yazdanseta, and Ghorbanifar, Judge Bruguiere also obtained answers to written questions of a high ranking Iranian defector, who had been detained by German authorities. This defector, Mr. Mesbahi, confirmed to Judge Bruguiere that the assassination of Dr. Elahi was organized and executed by Iranian government officials. Tr. 129 (Boedels); Exhibit 59 at 84.

26. Messrs. Mashadi and Yazdanseta were tried before the Paris Supreme Criminal Court, and, in September 1996, they were convicted of conspiracy to commit terrorist acts, including the planned assassinations of Dr. Ganji and Cyrus Elahi. Mr. Mashadi was sentenced to seven years' imprisonment and Mr. Yazdanseta to three years' imprisonment. ...


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