Alleged Israeli Spy Gets Death Sentence in Iran

Iran's Revolutionary Court issued a death sentence yesterday to Ali Ashtari on charges of spying for Israel. The sentence was handed down three days after the trial was reported in Iran.

According to Iranian reports, Ashtari, 45, was an electronics importer who supplied equipment to the army and defense establishment, including the nuclear program, throughout Iran. The reports claimed that Ashtari had worked for the Mossad for several years prior to his arrest about 18 months ago, and that he met with his Mossad handlers - known as Tony, Charles and Jacques - in Switzerland, Thailand and Turkey. They allegedly paid his travel expenses and also gave him $50,000. Iranian Television showed a laptop computer for coded communication as well as satellite phones and electronic surveillance equipment purportedly given to Ashtari by his handlers.

Ashtari told his interrogators and reporters at the courthouse yesterday that his business was based mostly on importing wireless communication devices from Dubai, but that "I was also doing some planning and consulting work, so [the Israelis] asked me about the communications infrastructure in Iran."

"The Mossad wanted to use me to sell marked goods to Iranian intelligence," he added. Ashtari testified that his missions including "creating a link" between his Israeli handlers and "Iranian experts."

Ashtari said the handlers initially posed as bankers from Belgium's Fortis Bank, and told him they were interested in exploring a business venture. He said the three offered him an unofficial loan - "which struck me as odd" - before giving him a laptop "which could send and receive encrypted email" as well as two DSL (Digital Subscriber Line) devices with a satellite hookup, "to give to my Iranian clients. I think those were wired."

Iranian reports said Ashtari confessed, pleaded guilty on all charges and expressed remorse for his actions. He has 20 days to appeal his sentence.

A Foreign Ministry spokesman in Jerusalem said it had no knowledge of the case.