Iran's Ebadi condemns 'illegal' assets freeze

28th November 2009, Comments 0 comments

Iranian Nobel Peace Prize winner Shirin Ebadi on Friday accused the Islamic republic of acting illegally by freezing her assets and questioned the timing of its demand she pay substantial back taxes.

London - Iranian Nobel Peace Prize winner Shirin Ebadi on Friday accused the Islamic republic of acting illegally by freezing her assets and questioned the timing of its demand she pay substantial back taxes.

In an interview with AFP in London, Ebadi said the Iranian demand that she pay more than USD 400,000 (EUR 270,000) in tax on Nobel prize money she won in 2003 only came shortly after this year's presidential election.

Ebadi has accused Iran of freezing her bank accounts and confiscating her Nobel laureate's medal.

She won the Nobel prize for her campaign for democracy and human rights in Iran and has been an outspoken critic of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, whose re-election in June sparked mass opposition protests.

The Iranian authorities have denied seizing the Nobel medal from a bank deposit box in Tehran, although the foreign ministry implicitly confirmed that Ebadi's assets had been frozen because she had failed to pay tax on them.

"The confiscation of these properties is in breach of the law of the Islamic republic and I made a complaint against the judge who has ordered this confiscation," Ebadi said, speaking through a translator.

She claimed that the officials who seized the bank accounts "have nothing to do with the finance ministry, they were from the Revolutionary Court."

Under Iranian law, the Nobel prize money is not liable for tax, she claimed.

"The peace prize was won six years ago and over this period of time there has never been a claim from the government for the tax. The claim was made just after the election," Ebadi said.

"I have received documents from the finance ministry asking me for USD 410,000 in tax. I have protested against the amount, but I haven't had a response so far."

Ebadi, 62, dismissed suggestions that Iranian officials had inadvertently taken the Nobel medal while they were confiscating documents relating to her assets.

"There is no mistake or error, they have confiscated or blocked all the personal accounts," she said.

"My husband had a safe box... in Tejarat bank in Tehran and they have blocked and confiscated the contents of the safe.

"The Nobel medal and the Legion d'Honneur prize were in that safe box and they have been taken."

Ebadi left Iran on the eve of the presidential election to attend a three-day conference in Spain, and has not returned since, but said she intended to go home in the near future.

"All of my relatives and my home are in Iran so I will go back."

She said her husband was being prevented from leaving the country, even though "he has nothing to do with politics. He is only involved in business."

Norway, the home of the Nobel prizes, has accused Iran of confiscating Ebadi's Nobel medal and diploma and summoned the Islamic republic's envoy in Oslo to voice its protest.

Norwegian Foreign Minister Jonas Gahr Stoere expressed his "shock and disbelief" at the incident. It is the first time in the 108-year history of the Nobel prize that a medal has been seized.

In Tehran, the foreign ministry called in the Norwegian ambassador to protest about "meddling comments made by the Norwegian foreign minister in defence of Shirin Ebadi's illegal acts of tax evasion," state television's website reported.

An unnamed official said such comments were based on "inaccurate and unfounded information," adding that "Iran has its own tax laws and confronting those who violate these laws is an internal matter."

In London, Ebadi said she feared the West could be tempted to turn a blind eye to human rights abuses in return for Iran's cooperation on its disputed nuclear programme.

"The issue of human rights is a universal concept. So I hope that the nuclear issues don't prevent people from looking at the human rights situation."

The stand-off between Iran and the West intensified on Friday when the United Nations nuclear watchdog censured Tehran and demanded it immediately halt construction of a newly-revealed uranium enrichment plant.


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