MACLEANS | July 2, 2010
by Charlie Gillis
A Canadian accused of aiding Iran’s nuclear program may be a key asset or a dupe—but his case shows how serious Iran is
Last April, after eight hours in a windowless cell, with a phone to duty counsel as his only link to the outside world, Mahmoud Yadegari finally broke down. The legal aid lawyers had warned him not to talk. Even the Mounties who had arrested him that morning on the porch of his square, beige bungalow in north Toronto repeated their standard cautions that his words could be used against him when his case went to court.
But now, with his head throbbing and his world “falling apart” (his words), the 36-year-old Iranian-Canadian embarked on a wide-ranging conversation with corporals Pete Merrifield and Kelly Helowka, touching on the essentials of the case against him. Over the next hour and a half, with the cell door open and the two officers propped against walls, he spoke of the export business he’d started in late 2008, and the obscure, cylindrical devices called pressure transducers that he’d spent the past five months scouring the continent for. He spoke of a mercurial man named Nima Tabari, whom he’d met during a trip to Iran in 2007, and who had served as his chief business contact in Iran.
According to Merrifield, who offered his recollection in testimony last week, Yadegari said Tabari instructed him to send two transducers to Iran via the United Arab Emirates, in contravention of a host of international and domestic laws aimed at stopping the former country from acquiring nuclear capability.
Like many jailhouse interviews, this one failed the fire test of admissibility. On Tuesday, the judge presiding over Yadegari’s trial in Ontario Provincial Court excluded the chat from evidence, citing concerns over whether it had been, in the strictest sense, voluntary. Yadegari himself took the stand during a voir dire hearing to dispute the police account of the conversation, denying he admitted trying to send the equipment to Iran. It’s the sort of nuance that will prove crucial to Yadegari’s defence: in an agreed statement of fact filed with the court, he admits trying to buy transducers and even trying to ship them; the question is whether he knew the devices were bound to Iran, and what they were for.