Leak exposes Iran's involvement in striking Ukrainian plane
A new audio leak has exposed that Tehran deliberately allowed civil flights to fly in conjunction with the Ukrainian plane shot down in January.
Canadian channel CBC News obtained a recording of a 90-minute conversation in which Hassan Rezaeifar, head of the Iranian investigation team, spoke about the Ukrainian Airlines incident in which 176 people were killed, including 57 Canadians.
Hours after the channel sent a copy of the recording to Rezaeifar for comment, he was removed from his post and the families of the victims were notified that a new investigator had taken over.
In the leaked recording, Rezaeifar revealed that the airspace over Tehran was left open to avoid early detection of the missile attack on US air bases in Iraq that night in response to the killing of Quds Force commander Qassem Soleimani a week earlier. He added that the closure of the airspace would have meant the cancellation of flights, from which Iran earns hundreds of thousands of dollars per day in fees.
Civilian aircraft, human shield
Payam Akhavan, a former international law professor and former United Nations prosecutor at The Hague, also reviewed the audio recording, said that deliberately leaving civilian aircraft in harm's way and using passengers as human shields constitutes criminal responsibility, as the highest levels of the Iranian government chose to keep civilian aircraft flying during a time full of military activity.
"The matter is not a human oversight, but criminal recklessness," he said, adding that the investigation team is nothing but a front to cover up the crime.
The Rezaeifar recording also revealed that just five minutes after the incident, he received information from Amir-Ali Hajizadeh, commander of the Revolutionary Guards Aerospace Force, who informed him that he had an order to fire missiles at the plane for reasons of national security.
Tehran had denied for three continuous days that it had been involved in shooting down the plane, instead insisting the incident was caused by a technical failure of the engine. But on January 11, the Iranian army admitted that it had shot down the plane by mistake.
The leaked call took place between Rezaeifar and the husband of one of the victims. Rezaeifar tried to pressure him not to criticize the Iranian regime on the internet. When the husband refused to respond, the intelligence services contacted his family members in Iran to put pressure on him to remain silent.
Tehran is expected to publish a report on the incident before sending the recovered black box to France on July 20 for analysis.