October 31, 2020
Days after it emerged that a German-Iranian human rights activist had been arrested in Iran, German and European police have issued joint notices declaring they are on the hunt for an alleged rapist – and according to one German newspaper, a spy – who “managed to escape to Iran”.
A week ago on Friday, October 23, the Frankfurt-based International Society for Human Rights (ISHR) sounded the alarm over the arrest of a 66-year-old German-Iranian architect in Iran.
Nahid Taghavi was detained at her apartment in Tehran on October 16, where she routinely stayed for several months of the year. Her ID cards, German passport and other personal items were confiscated. She is being held in Evin Prison and was initially blocked from contacting her family, with daughter telling IranWire last week: “I don’t even know whether she is dead or alive.”
Three days later, German police in the North Rhine-Westphalia region published a new profile on its “Most Wanted Criminals” pages in connection with crimes allegedly committed around three years ago.
Soheil Omid Kholossian, 32, is a German citizen born in the northwestern city of Darmstadt. He is wanted by Cologne Public Prosecutor’s Office in connection with two counts of rape of a 16-year-old schoolgirl from Cologne in November 2017. Kholossian is thought to have met his victim at Cologne Central Station and coerced her into sex on at least two occasions in Cologne and at his apartment in Kerpen. “Investigators”, the force said, “are investigating clues that the wanted person could currently be abroad.”
The European Union Agency for Law Enforcement Cooperation, better known as Europol, has since added Kholossian to the continent-wide “Most Wanted” list. The pan-European police force revealed the fugitive sometimes goes by an alias, Soheil Mohammadi Fejzabad, and previously worked as a tour guide in Germany. It also stated: “He managed to escape to Iran.”
German Media Speculates on Motive Behind the Notice
On Wednesday, October 28, the German newspaper Express asserted in no uncertain terms that Kholossian was a “long-identified spy”. Claiming it had spoken to a domestic security official within Germany’s Federal Office for the Protection of the Constitution, the paper said it had learned Kholossian had played a prominent role in an “espionage war” going on between the two countries for several years.
The newspaper also cited several elements of the Europol notice that, it claimed, suggested Kholossian was wanted for more than the offences stated. “Kholossian is [wanted for] two counts of rape,” the Express wrote. “People on charges such as terrorism, drug trafficking or human trafficking are on the Europol list. His name on this list is surprising… Is it for something else?”
The Express also said it was “not clear” why Kholossian was not arrested in the three years since the alleged offences in November 2017. “Kholossian was probably released because, as a spy, his release was more valuable than his imprisonment,” it said.
By itself, the delay may not be a strong indicator that there is anything more to this case. It can take a long time for victims of sexual assault to come forward to police, and evidence-gathering is a slow process. In Germany, according to Justice Ministry figures, only one in 10 rapes were reported to police in 2016 and just 8 per cent of rape trials resulted in a conviction.
But the Express also suggested the timing of the notice was significant, as it came within days of Nahid Taghavi’s arrest. The Iranian government, as the paper pointed out and as IranWire has reported in the past, has form in arresting dual nationals for political or material gain, and for use as leverage in future prisoner swaps. As such, the Express speculated, the two countries could be preparing for a stand-off.
“Soheil Omid Kholossian,” it declared, “as a spy, is now a burnt nut and Iran will never be able to use him again. Germany cannot pay a ransom to Iran and so [in doing this] has made it clear to Iran that if Iran does not drop the case quickly, it is ready to burn Iran’s spies one after another.”
The German international broadcaster Deutsche Welle republished the remarks this week, together with a slideshow on history’s most infamous incidents of “Espionage by Seduction”. Neither Europol nor the German police have officially responded to the claims and Kholossian remains officially wanted for two counts of rape.
Nahid Taghavi Joins a Long Line of Dual Nationals Targeted in Iran
Yesterday Nahid Taghavi’s daughter, Maryam Keralan, announced on Twitter that her mother had been able to make contact with her from Evin Prison almost a fortnight after her arrest. “Yesterday the first sign of life: short call [to say] that she is alive,” she wrote. “Furthermore, legal assistance is denied and she is being exposed to the regime’s interrogation methods. I demand clarification, and her release!”
In recent years, the Iranian regime has detained and imprisoned dual nationals and foreign nationals from the United States, Britain, Austria, France, Australia, Lebanon, and Sweden, in all cases on security-related charges such as “espionage” and “collaborating with hostile states.”
Many of these people are still being held in Evin Prison and other penitentiaries scattered throughout the country. Some, however, have been released in exchange for either money or the release of Iranian prisoners in their countries of origin. These have included Xiyue Wang, a Chinese national living in the United States, Nizar Zakka, a Lebanese national and US permanent resident, the American Michael White, French citizen Roland Marshall, and Iranian-American dual nationals Jason Rezaian and Amir Hekmati.