Iranian regime may be criminally liable for downing of Ukrainian plane

The former lead head of the investigation was recorded telling a victim's husband that the regime purposefully allowed flights to continue as cover for its attack on US air bases.

Soldiers carry a coffin containing the remains of one of the eleven Ukrainian victims of the Ukraine International Airlines flight 752 plane disaster during a memorial ceremony at the Boryspil International Airport, outside Kiev, Ukraine January 19, 2020. (photo credit: REUTERS)
Soldiers carry a coffin containing the remains of one of the eleven Ukrainian victims of the Ukraine International Airlines flight 752 plane disaster during a memorial ceremony at the Boryspil International Airport, outside Kiev, Ukraine January 19, 2020.
(photo credit: REUTERS)
Iranian authorities allowed commercial flights to fly in and out of Tehran while missiles were being fired, putting civilian lives at risk, as closing the airspace would have revealed the regimes' intention to strike US military bases in Iraq, the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC) has heard.
If the allegation is correct, the Iranian regime may be criminally liable for the deaths of those aboard the plane, a law professor has said.
The allegation was made by Hassan Rezaeifar, the former head of Iran's investigation into the downing of Flight PS752, during a 91-minute phone conversation with the husband of one of the victims of the errant attack.
Flight PS752 was departing Tehran en route to Kiev when it was struck by a stray Iranian missile, killing all 176 people aboard including 57 Canadians. The Iranian regime initially denied liability for the attack before admitting that the missile had been fired in error while attacking US bases in Iraq, in retaliation for the killing by America of Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) Gen. Qasem Soleimani in early January.
But during the conversation on March 7, a recording of which has since been obtained by CBC, Rezaeifar told Javad Soleimani (no relation to the general), whose wife was killed in the attack, that the regime purposefully chose not to clear the airspace for fear of losing the element of surprise.
"Some say we should have cleared the airspace... The National Security Council is in charge," Rezaeifar said in Farsi on the recording.
"But let's say we had cleared the airspace. Wouldn't [it] give away our imminent attack?"
Delaying flights was also not an option, he continued. "Let's assume we had delayed the Ukrainian flight for ten hours. Wouldn't it have canceled all other flights afterward?" Rezaeifar said on the call. Iran earns hundreds of thousands of dollars daily from fees levied on flights in its airspace.
The recording was reviewed by Payam Akhavan, a Canadian-Iranian international law professor at McGill University and former UN prosecutor at The Hague, at the request of CBC, who told the corporation that the Iranian government may be criminally liable for the deaths of those killed.
"The senior leadership of the government willingly and knowingly disregarded these risks," Akhavan said. "This is not just a question of human error or mistake: It's a question of criminal recklessness.
"To knowingly put civilian aircraft in harm's way, to use civilian airliners in effect as human shields, clearly implicates criminal responsibility."
Akhavan also said that comments within the conversation indicate a cover-up by the Iranian regime, which swung into action shortly after the plane was downed.
REZAEIFAR WAS head of the accident investigation board of the Iran Civil Aviation Organization (CAO) at the time of the crash. In the recording, he can be heard telling Soleimani that he called the IRGC five minutes after the plane crashed, and that the commander of the Aerospace Force admitted that missiles had been launched.
"I was informed at 6:30 a.m., and I called the IRGC at 6:35 a.m. and asked, 'Did you have a missile attack?'" Rezaeifar says in the recording. "Mr. Hajizadeh explained and said yes, and we had orders. He said there are some national security considerations in the country."
Futhermore, Rezaeifar can be heard during the course of the conversation attempting to coerce Soleimani into ceasing public criticism of Iran. Javad Soleimani has been outspoken in his criticism of the Iranian regime following the loss in the crash of his wife, Elnaz Nabiy, posting on Instagram that Iranians won't forget the crimes committed by the regime against its own people.
"Please delete it from your Instagram," Rezaeifar tells Soleimani on the call. "Do you agree that out of 83 million people of Iran, only 10 or 12 people have hurt you? Why should those other 82 million people be insulted by this post?"
He then asks whether the Canadian government is more "benevolent" toward him, asking: "Are you certain that the whole Canadian government is good and not corrupt?"
Two days after the call, Iran's Ministry of Intelligence put pressure on Soleimani's family members in Iran over his posts on social media, he told CBC.
"It's ridiculous. They just wanted to somehow threaten me to stop criticizing the regime on social media because I had many followers on Instagram," he said. "They tried to force me to be silent... but honestly, I have nothing to lose. And I told him I have nothing to lose, so you cannot stop me by just threatening me by conversation over the phone."
Less than 24 hours after CBC emailed Rezaeifar a copy of the recording with a request for response, news broke that he had been removed from his post overseeing Iran's investigation.
THOMAS JUNEAU, an associate professor of international affairs at the University of Ottawa and former analyst of Middle East affairs, told CBC that the content of the call proves that Iran's investigation into the crash is anything but independent of the regime.
"Having the lead investigator saying those things on that phone call really damages that fiction," said Juneau. "By removing him, they're trying to protect that facade.
"I did not expect the investigation to be independent – and few serious analysts did," he added. "This basically confirms it."
Juneau said that for the lead investigator to put pressure on a victim's relative was "totally inappropriate" and "absurd," but added that he wasn't surprised by the move. "It's not very smart. It's just not a good move," he said.
However, he also sounded a warning regarding the claims made by Rezaeifar during the call.
"Is it true?" said Juneau. "Is he boasting? Is he exaggerating some things to increase the level of intimidation towards family members? These are all questions that we don't know the answer to."
A new lead investigator will now be appointed to conduct the investigation into the crash, but the victims' families say they are not holding out much hope of it being conducted independently of the Iranian regime.
"I don't see any different between Rezaeifar and the new investigator," said Hamed Esmaeilion, interim spokesman for the association representing the Canadian victims' families, who lost his wife Parisa Eghbalian, and their nine-year-old daughter Reera in the crash.
"CAO is not independent. The whole organization is closely working with the IRGC."
Syrine Khoury, press secretary to Canadian Foreign Affairs Minister François-Philippe Champagne, told CBC in a written statement: "The government of Canada denounces any and all attempts to coerce or pressure Canadians, especially those suffering the loss of a loved one," she added. "The government of Canada encourages anyone who feels threatened, unsafe or vulnerable to contact local law enforcement authorities."