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IRAN: Court ruling aside, intelligence chief insists Saberi was a spy

May 13, 2009 |  7:41 am

Iran-ejei The head of Iran's Ministry of Intelligence and Security is no pushover. 

Even though an appellate court suspended journalist Roxana Saberi's eight-year prison sentence and set her free Monday, Iran's top intel official insists she was a spy. 

Gholam-Hossein Mohseni-Ejei said today that the court ruling had not changed his opinion one iota about the Iranian American and former beauty queen, according to a Farsi-language report published by the Mehr News Agency. 

He spoke along the sidelines of a Cabinet meeting in Tehran:

"After carrying out expert studies on such cases, the Intelligence Ministry announces its views to the judiciary.  However, after conducting its own studies, the latter may not accept the former's views...."

According to her lawyer, in a story first reported by The Times on Monday, Saberi admitted that she had kept a copy of a confidential report she had obtained from a government-associated think tank where she had once worked, but denied that she had passed on the information to any government. 

The appellate court agreed that such an act did not amount to espionage and sent the 32-year-old home to her family on Monday.

But Mohseni-Ejei said he remained perplexed as to why the two-judge appellate panel downgraded Saberi's sentence after a judge had ruled last month that she was guilty.

Saberi was arrested in late January after what Iranian officials described as a two-year counter-intelligence operation.

"In fact, the judiciary had acknowledged the Intelligence Ministry's view and ruled that this person should be imprisoned. The fact that such a ruling was issued shows that she was guilty.... Based on what has been said, the charges of espionage against that person have been confirmed. However, for some reason, the judge overseeing the case has ruled that her prison term should be suspended for five years."

Mohseni-Ejei also said a number of people had been arrested for allegedly distributing Israeli-labeled oranges in Tehran

-- Borzou Daragahi in Beirut

Photo: Gholam-Hossein Mohseni-Ejei. Credit: