Iran claims secret recording about Flight PS752's destruction is fake

Iran is pushing back at what it calls "fruitless sensationalization" of the Flight PS752 disaster in the wake of a CBC News report about a secretly-recorded conversation that suggests the world may never know the truth about what happened.

Recording suggests Iran's foreign minister proposed alternate explanations for the crash

A rescue worker searches the area where Flight PS752 crashed in Shahedshahr, southwest of the capital Tehran, Iran, Wednesday, Jan. 8, 2020. (The Associated Press)

Iran is pushing back at what it calls "fruitless sensationalization" of the Flight PS752 tragedy in the wake of a CBC News report about a secretly-recorded conversation that suggests the world may never know the truth of what happened.

As the regime celebrates the 42nd anniversary of the Islamic Revolution that overthrew the country's monarchy, Iran's Minister of Foreign Affairs Mohammad Javad Zarif and his spokesperson today responded to CBC's story by claiming the recording is a fake.

"The allegations made in this article are incorrect and baseless and many of the statements attributed to Dr. Zarif are fundamentally not compatible with the language that he commonly uses and the claim of the existence of such a tape is not true," ministry spokesperson Saeed Khatibzadeh said in a statement in Farsi posted on the ministry's webpage and translated by CBC News.

"We advise the Government of Canada to act professionally instead of its own fruitless sensationalism and to submit an expert report on the accident if it has an opinion."

Iran's Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif. (Associated Press)

CBC News has confirmed the RCMP, the Canadian Security Intelligence Service and the Communications Security Establishment have had the recording of the private conversation in their custody for weeks. The security services are analyzing the recording's authenticity and treating it with the "gravity it deserves," said Ralph Goodale, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau's special advisor on the Flight PS752 file. 

Truth may never be exposed, according to recording

CBC News listened to the recording and had three people translate it from Farsi to English to capture nuances in the language.

Sources identified the voice on the audio as belonging to Zarif. The individual is heard saying on the recording that there are a "thousand possibilities" to explain the downing of the jet, including a deliberate attack involving two or three "infiltrators" — a scenario he said was "not at all unlikely."

He is also heard saying in Farsi that the truth about the aircraft's destruction likely will never be revealed by the highest levels of Iran's government and Iran's Revolutionary Guard Corps — an elite wing of the country's military overseen by Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, the country's supreme leader and commander-in-chief. The IRGC is designated as a terrorist organization by the U.S., Bahrain and Saudi Arabia.

"There are reasons that they will never be revealed," he says in Farsi. "They won't tell us, nor anyone else, because if they do it will open some doors into the defence systems of the country that will not be in the interest of the nation to publicly say."

WATCH | Iran claims secret recording about downed airliner is fake:

Iran calls secret recording about Flight 752 incorrect, baseless

3 years ago
Duration 2:03
Iran was quick to push back at Canada after a CBC News exclusive revealed a secret recording of a man identified as Iran's foreign minister contradicting his own government's explanation for the downing of Flight 752, calling the reports incorrect and baseless.

According to sources, the audio of the private conversation was captured in the months after the aircraft was destroyed on Jan. 8, 2020, shortly after takeoff in Tehran. All 176 people aboard were killed, including 138 people with ties to Canada.

After three days of denial, Iran's President Hassan Rouhani stated publicly that human error was to blame. He said the military mistook the jetliner for a hostile target in the aftermath of an American drone strike that killed a high-ranking Iranian military general in Iraq.

Zarif tweeted Wednesday morning in response to CBC's story, insisting Iran always believed there were many possible explanations for the downing but concluded human error was to blame.

"Following Flight #PS72 tragedy, I & many others insisted that ALL possibilities — including foreign infiltration or electronic interference — must be investigated (fake audio notwithstanding). Human error was finally judged as cause. Iran is committed to full justice for victims," the minister wrote.

Zarif's tweet and his spokesperson's comments today are believed to be their first public confirmation that Iran looked into foreign infiltration or electronic interference as possible explanations for Flight PS752's destruction.

In his statement, Khatibzadeh said "everyone knows" that Zarif stressed "the need to examine all possibilities" during official meetings in the weeks following the crash. He specifically cited "the meeting with the Foreign Minister of Canada" — an apparent reference to François-Philippe Champagne, the minister at the time.

Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesperson Saeed Khatibzadeh claims Canada is politicizing the destruction of Flight PS752. (CBC News)

Iranian official suggests Canada is spreading 'rumours'

Khatibzadeh also accused Canada of politicizing Flight PS752 and upsetting families.

"Families who have lost loved ones in this unfortunate tragedy are enduring great grief that is not easy to alleviate," he wrote.

"We call on Canada not to add to the grief of bereaved families every day with such actions and rumours."

Hamed Esmaeilion, spokesperson for the association representing victims' families in Canada, says Zarif is the one causing grief for survivors.

"Javad Zarif, his actions and the whole Iranian regime is adding to the grief of the families," said Esmaeilion. "Nothing is more valuable than human life. He says finding the truth can open doors to our defence system. What about human lives?"

Hamed Esmaeilion, his wife Parisa Eghbalian and daughter Reera Esmaeilion in happier times. Both Parisa and Reera died aboard Flight PS752. (Submitted by Hamed Esmaeilion)

Thomas Juneau is an associate professor of international affairs at the University of Ottawa who studies intelligence analysis and Canadian foreign policy. He said that while the public emergence of the recording is a "bad surprise" and  "embarassing" for Zarif, the aftermath of PS752 "has fallen lower on the list of priorities of the government of Iran right now."

"Ultimately, I think what the spokesperson and the foreign minister were trying to do with the response was to try and bat it away, basically," he said.

Multiple countries — including Ukraine, where the airline that operated PS752 is based — have until the end of the month to review Iran's final report on the safety investigation. It's not clear when that document will be released publicly.

The past four interim reports suggested that a long list of human errors and other issues resulted in the IRGC mistakenly firing the missile at the commercial plane.

Khatibzadeh said Iran's final safety report will be written by "impartial and competent experts."

WATCH | Downed airliner may have been intentionally shot down, secret recording says:

Secret recording says it’s possible Flight 752 may have been intentionally shot down

3 years ago
Duration 2:50
CBC News has obtained a recording of a man sources have identified as Iran's foreign minister acknowledging that the downing of Flight 752 could have been intentional. The Canadian government and security agencies are reviewing the recording.

"Investigation into air accidents is a completely specialized and technical issue, and by spreading rumours and politicizing work, it is not possible to impose a result on the public opinion in line with the poisonous political goals," he said.

Goodale has said a forensic examination and analysis team is working independently to piece together what led to the catastrophe.

"What we want to do at the end of the day for the families is to put all of this together in a coherent statement, as strong and clear as we can make it, about what happened and why it happened," said Goodale.

In a media statement, Global Affairs Canada said the federal government is committed to obtaining justice for the victims and the bereaved by holding Iran to account.

"Canada's police and security agencies are examining the reported audio tape with great care to determine its authenticity and full meaning. We cannot comment on its content at this time because lives may be put at risk," said Global Affairs spokesperson Christelle Chartrand.


Ashley Burke

Senior reporter

Ashley Burke is a senior reporter with the CBC's Parliamentary Bureau in Ottawa who focuses on enterprise journalism for television, radio and digital platforms. She was recognized with the Charles Lynch Award and was a finalist for the Michener Award for her exclusive reporting on the toxic workplace at Rideau Hall. She has also uncovered rampant allegations of sexual misconduct in the Canadian military involving senior leaders. You can reach her confidentially by email: ashley.burke@cbc.ca or https://www.cbc.ca/securedrop/

With files from Kristen Everson