Politics

'False and unfounded': Liberal MP denies claims that he's worked with Iran

Liberal MP Majid Jowhari is denying allegations made in an Iranian-language television broadcast that he has worked with and accepted money from Iran's government.

Journalist claims he was told by Iranian defector that Majid Jowhari has had contact with Iranian intelligence

Liberal MP Majid Jowhari rises to vote during a marathon voting session in the House of Commons Thursday, March 21, 2019 in Ottawa. (Adrian Wyld/THE CANADIAN PRESS)

A Liberal MP is denying allegations, broadcast on an Iranian-language television network, that he has worked with and accepted money from Iran's government.

"These accusations are absolutely false and unfounded," Majid Jowhari told CBC News in a written statement. "I strongly deny any accusations."

The allegations against the member of Parliament for Richmond Hill were made by freelance journalist Alireza Sassani on the program Window on the Homeland on the Iran-e-Farda network.

CBC News has not been able to independently verify Sassani's claims.

Sassani is described as a close collaborator of Masoud Molavi, an Iranian intelligence agent who defected and revealed details of Iranian influence operations overseas.

Molavi was shot dead on the streets of Istanbul on November 14. He had been granted asylum in Turkey after fleeing Iran and had set up a digital channel, BlackBox, which he used to broadcast revelations about corruption and wrongdoing within the Iranian regime.

The U.S. government blamed his assassination on Iran's intelligence services.

Describing Iranian government influence operations in other countries, Sassani said that "Masoud talked to me about someone by the name of Majid Jowhari. He's a member of the Parliament of Canada. He's from the Liberal Party, representing Richmond Hill.

"He said that Jowhari was in touch with some of the intelligence officers of Iran, and that he even visited the representatives of Taeb and Mojtaba Khamenei. He even received financial support from these people.

"Now he's been elected in Canada for a second time."

Hossein Taeb is the head of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) intelligence division. Mojtaba Khamenei is a son of Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and is sometimes described as head of the Basij militia, a pro-regime force that is heavily involved in suppressing protests in Iran.

Mojtaba, son of Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, center, attends the annual Quds, or Jerusalem Day rally in Tehran, Iran, Friday, May 31, 2019. (Vahid Salemi/The Associated Press)

Since 2010, the IRGC has been a listed entity under Canada's Special Economic Measures Act. The law prohibits Canadians from engaging in any financial, service or goods-related transactions with listed entities and individuals; Hossein Taeb himself is a listed individual under the law. Part of the IRGC is also listed as a terrorist group in Canada.

Mojtaba Khamenei has not been named as a listed individual under the Special Economic Measures Act. He was, however, designated last month by the U.S. Treasury Department "for representing the Supreme Leader in an official capacity despite never being elected or appointed to a government position aside from work in the office of his father," according to a press release. The assets of those designated by Treasury are blocked, and Americans are banned from dealing with them.

"The Supreme Leader has delegated a part of his leadership responsibilities to Mojtaba Khamenei, who worked closely with the commander of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps-Qods Force (IRGC-QF) and also the Basij Resistance Force (Basij) to advance his father's destabilizing regional ambitions and oppressive domestic objectives," says the Treasury release.

Jowhari said today that he's being singled out "without a shred of evidence ...

"Those who spread these slanderous and baseless accusations want to instigate hate and fear without providing a single fact to support it. We should stand together against this hateful behaviour."

The allegation is already drawing pointed political reaction, with Conservative Sen. Linda Frum calling for an investigation.

It's not the first time Jowhari has had to push back against claims that he is close to the regime in Iran.

Shortly after he was elected in 2015, he was heavily criticized for inviting three Iranian parliamentarians to visit him in his riding office. He also drew negative attention for some of his tweets — including one he sent out during the wave of protests that shook Iran in December 2017.

Jowhari said he hoped the protesters would be able to demonstrate "with the support of their elected government". 

Jowhari was condemned by many Iranian-Canadians for appearing to suggest that the regime was "elected" and that it was supporting protesters. In fact, government forces were suppressing the protests with considerable bloodshed.

Supporter of re-engagement

Thomas Juneau researches Middle Eastern affairs at the University of Ottawa and is a former strategic analyst at the Department of National Defence.

Last year, he conducted a research project on the debate over whether Canada should re-establish ties with the Islamic Republic of Iran, a hugely controversial topic in the Iranian-Canadian community.

Advocates of re-engagement include both regime supporters and people who merely want to make it easier to visit family in Iran or send help to family members in the country.

"[Jowhari's] name did come up on a number of occasions. He was known inside the Liberal caucus as one of the main proponents of re-engagement with Iran — a view that I agree with," he said. "But he was viewed as being a bit too much of a proponent of that view and a bit too much with individuals associated with the Islamic Republic."

Juneau says many of those he spoke to who supported re-engagement were still reluctant to be seen associating with Jowhari, who had a "controversial history".

But he cautions that an allegation made by an "individual associated with a dead Iranian spy" falls far short of the evidence he would need to see to conclude that Jowhari crossed a line.

"To label an individual an asset of a foreign government is a very serious accusation, and it has to be made on the basis of clear information," he said. "And we do not have — we're not even close to having — enough information publicly available to make that accusation toward that MP."

Denounced by fellow Liberals

Shortly before the federal election in October, an email was widely distributed in the Richmond Hill riding drafted by Liberals who said they had come "to the regrettable conclusion that we simply could not vote for" Majid Jowhari.

The email quoted four prominent Liberals: former Ontario cabinet minister Reza Moridi, who represented the provincial riding of Richmond Hill for over a decade; Bryon Wilfert, who previously held the federal riding for the Liberal Party; Sarkis Assadourian, who represented the federal riding of Brampton Centre for the Liberals; and Richard Rupp, past president of the Richmond Hill federal Liberal riding association.

In their email, they state that their decision is "based on a review of the Liberal candidate's record and of various media reports regarding some of his activities over the past four years."

They did not give details on which aspects of Jowhari's record they took issue with.

"Team Jowhari" responded on the MP's Facebook page: "This communication represents the worst type of campaign tactics — a non-specific note from a group who do not have the courage of their convictions to say what party and policies they do support but are prepared to say only what they don't support."

About the Author

Evan Dyer

Senior Reporter

Evan Dyer has been a journalist with CBC for 18 years, after an early career as a freelancer in Argentina. He works in the Parliamentary Bureau and can be reached at evan.dyer@cbc.ca.

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