By Alejo Vidal-Quadras Roca
Earlier in December, news broke out about a major corruption scandal involving the European Parliament. Dubbed “Qatargate,” at the center of the scandal that has rocked the European political body is allegedly dealings with Qatar. The startling investigation includes charges of criminal enterprise, money laundering and corruption.
The Belgian police brought the charges against current and former members of the European Parliament. A significant target of the investigations is a parliamentary “adviser” with ties to the Iranian regime and long suspected as a regime lobbyist in Europe.
According to POLITICO, Belgian police have arrested multiple people, including the Greek Socialist MEP Eva Kaili, a Vice President of the European Parliament. Since December 9, Belgian federal police conducted a series of 20 raids across homes and offices in Brussels, seizing mobile phones, computers and more than €1.5 million in cash.
Reacting to this development, the Socialists & Democrats (S&D) group in the European Parliament suspended one of their political advisers, Eldar Mamedov, and referred him to the Belgian authorities as part of an internal investigation into alleged foreign interference in Brussels, reported POLITICO. A Latvian national, Mamedov is an S&D adviser to Parliament’s foreign affairs committee. S&D is the second-largest bloc at the European Parliament.
Mamedov has been in his advisory role for over a decade, working on Middle East topics, including Iran. Mamedov has taken pro-Iranian regime positions, is very close to the regime’s lobby in Washington, and routinely vilified the main opposition to the clerical regime, the Mujahedin-e Khalq (MEK). In his contacts with members of Parliament, he rehashed Tehran’s anti-MEK propaganda and wrote numerous articles bashing the MEK and whitewashing the regime’s crimes and aggressive regional conduct.
When I was an MEP and Vice president of the EP (1999-2014), I warned the Director General for Security of the European Parliament and also a number of MEPs of different political Groups, especially the Socialists about Mamedov’s activities on behalf of the mullahs’ regime. My alert drew the attention of these MEPs and of the Parliament administration on him, but at that time there was no material proof of his ties with the Iranian Ministry of Intelligence. It seems now he has been caught, which is indeed very good news, and reinforces the credibility of those MEPs, like me, in those years, who urge the European Institutions, Commission, Council, Parliament and EEAS, to toughen up the EUs position vis-à-vis the Iranian theocracy.
It is not acceptable that the Iranian dictatorship is able to use the services of agents disguised as “political advisors” to serve the interests of a foreign and hostile power at the very core of European democracy.
According to the Italian daily Corriere Della Sera, Mamedov is well-known in Brussels as an “Iran lobbyist.” The 50-year-old has travelled to Iran and has been pictured with regime officials, including former president Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani.
Eldar Mamedov with former Iranian regime president and key figure Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani.
According to Mamedov himself, he was in Iran as recently as 2020 at the invitation of the Institute for Political and International Studies (IPIS), a regime foreign ministry think tank, to help promote “an initiative to create a platform for an inclusive regional dialogue in the Persian Gulf.”
Previously, when he was working as a diplomat for Latvia, the United States asked the country to recall him, citing US secret service assessments that he is far too close to the regime’s representatives in the United States. This led to Mamedov’s resignation from the Latvian foreign ministry. Finally, after the recent scandal involving Mamedov, the S&D group suspended him for “serious misconduct” in relation to the ongoing investigations. His information page on the S&D group’s website has also been deactivated.
Links with Suspected Iran Lobbyists In Washington
As an alleged Iran lobbyist in Europe, Mamedov’s activities are trans-Atlantic and include close ties with suspected Iranian regime lobbyists and apologists in Washington, D.C. like Trita Parsi. His views are regularly published by Parsi’s new venture, the Quincy Institute.
Before co-founding the Quincy Institute, Trita Parsi was the founder and president of the National Iranian American Council (NIAC). Both NIAC and Parsi have long been alleged to be lobbying for the Iranian regime in Washington. During legal proceedings several years ago that led to the revelation of the NIAC’s internal documents, a Washington Times investigation found that the documents “raise questions about whether the organization is using that influence to lobby for policies favorable to Iran in violation of federal law.” The investigation pointed to emails between Parsi and the regime’s UN ambassador Javad Zarif, who later became foreign minister.
When the NIAC sued critics that accused it of lobbying for Tehran, a February 10, 2015 court ruling cast even more unfavorable light on the outfit. Before that, the US District Court for the District of Columbia found in 2012 that Parsi’s work was “not inconsistent with the idea that he was first and foremost an advocate for the regime.” According to the judge, it was conceivable that NIAC could reasonably be accused of lobbying on behalf of the Iranian regime.
According to another media investigation, “Remarkably, the NIAC hoarded and shielded documents during the discovery portion of a lawsuit that it had itself brought to court. … the NIAC really didn’t produce its calendar records. … the NIAC initially hid the existence of four of its computers from the court and wasn’t totally honest about what those computers were used for. … the NIAC misrepresented how its computer system was configured,” among many other questionable behaviours.
Parsi is now listed as the Executive Vice President of the Quincy Institute. The Responsible Statecraft magazine that Mamedov writes for is an outlet of the Quincy Institute. Additionally, Mamedov has repeatedly and publicly defended the NIAC, calling the allegations against it “toxic,” frequently praising and retweeting Parsi’s writings on Iran, promoting Parsi’s events and discussions on Iranian politics and interviewing with prominent NIAC members and regime apologists in the US, such as Negar Mortazavi.
Activities against the MEK
In order to effectively advocate for Tehran, apologists on both sides of the Atlantic, such as Parsi and Mamedov, have to hit back against the mullahs’ main opposition Mujahedin-e Khalq (MEK). For the past 13 years, Mamedov has penned numerous articles demonizing the MEK and rehashing the regime’s propaganda. He has also lobbied against the organization in European circles and particularly the European Parliament, providing his audience with stale regime talking points and accusations against the MEK. His writings are routinely praised and published by well-known regime intelligence-run websites like Nejat Association. His allegations against the MEK were taken from the regime’s playbook. For example, on behalf of the Iranian people, he claimed that the MEK has no support in Iran. He also repeatedly echoed Tehran’s narrative that MEK is not a viable alternative.
Downplaying the MEK’s role at every turn, Mamedov claims: “The foreign policy decision-making bodies of the EU — the Council of the EU and the External Action Service (EEAS) — do not consider the MEK a serious alternative to the current government in Tehran, as it has virtually no support among the Iranian population. … [M]ore needs to be done to counter MEK propaganda, which can impede diplomatic efforts with Iran that can, arguably, allow the government to reform from within.”
According to Official Wire, in 2011, “a letter seemingly drafted under the Iranian embassy’s direction by Mamedov and distributed in the S&D Group by Maria Muñiz was warning MEPs not to join a petition that several hundred colleagues had signed calling on Iraq to extend the deadline to close Ashraf to prevent a major humanitarian catastrophe.”
Below are samples of some of the many articles and tweets that Mamedov has produced against the MEK:
Lobe Log – June 17, 2014: “The vast majority of Iranians inside Iran either consider the group insignificant or harmful to reformist efforts. … The MEK and its supporters view Maliki as an Iranian pawn and believe that if Maliki goes, the Iranian government (which the MEK detests) will suffer. … [T]he MEK’s supporters and ISIS have found a common cause in pushing for Maliki’s ouster. … [T]he MEK will surely try to recruit more MEPs for its cause Of course, whoever is approached by the MEK — and most MEPs will be approached if they haven’t already — would be wise to think twice about associating with an organization that attempts to minimize the acts of a group so murderous and fanatical that even al-Qaeda has declared it too extreme.”
Lobe Log – November 6, 2019: “In July 2018, just as the Iranian president Hassan Rouhani was to embark on a trip to Paris to work on saving the faltering nuclear agreement, known as Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, or JCPOA, reports emerged about a bomb plot against the MEK gathering, allegedly hatched by the agents of Iranian intelligence. The case was never conclusively resolved. There remains some possibility that the “plot” was, in reality, a false flag operation concocted by the MEK and its foreign allies designed to sabotage diplomacy between the EU and Iran at a critical time.”
Responsible Statecraft – January 7, 2022: “Exactly two years ago, I was in Tehran attending, at the invitation of the Institute for Political and International Studies (IPIS), Iran’s foreign ministry’s think tank, a conference on Iran’s Hormuz Peace Endeavour (HOPE), an initiative to create a platform for an inclusive regional dialogue in the Persian Gulf.”
Positions on West’s Iran Policy
Both within the European Parliament and outside of it, Mamedov has been consistently pushing for a soft approach with Tehran’s clerics under the veneer of “diplomacy” and portraying the regime as powerful but rational, while peddling the false dichotomy of diplomacy or war. He has lashed out against any firm or decisive policy against the regime as “warmongering.” For Mamedov, not even the eliminated Quds Force commander Qassem Soleimani was deserving of criticism. Soleimani, in his view, was “charismatic and influential” and he “imbued Iranians with a sense of national pride. His successes allowed them to feel victorious.”
According to Mamedov, despite the “hyperbole” about the regime’s desire for regional expansionism, it has actually been Tehran that has a long track record of practically attempting to de-escalate tensions with Washington. If the regime is seen as rejecting dialogue, it is Washington that should be blamed for opting out of the nuclear deal, not Tehran. Therefore, “it is high time to de-escalate and inaugurate a new era of dialogue with Iran.”
Some examples of Mamedov’s arguments and positions on Iran are presented below:
Responsible Statecraft – July 11, 2022: “… [T]he actual track record of the Islamic Republic, which, alongside its ideological anti-Americanism, also included efforts to decrease tensions with the United States — from former President Hashemi Rafsanjani’s offer of a major contract with U.S. oil giant Conoco, to his successor Mohammad Khatami’s “dialogue of civilizations” to Hassan Rouhani’s JCPOA, including cooperation in a post-Taliban Afghanistan and a de-facto alliance against ISIS in Iraq. Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei hinted that if the JCPOA were faithfully implemented, dialogue on other issues, including regional security, was possible. If the current hardline government in Tehran rejects such dialogue (for which it is criticized even by many regime insiders), it is due mostly not to the “hatred of America,” but rather the experience of Trump’s withdrawal from the JCPOA and his “maximum pressure” campaign — a policy the FDD ardently lobbied for.
Responsible Statecraft – January 8, 2021: “In the early morning hours of January 8, 2020, I was boarding a plane at the Tehran airport to return to Europe after participating in “Tehran Dialogues,” an international conference organized by Iran’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs. On an otherwise deserted tarmac, I saw a lonely aircraft belonging to Ukrainian Airlines parked at the terminal. Shortly before boarding, I learned that Iranian security forces had launched a series of strikes on an American base in Iraq in retaliation for the assassination of General Qassem Soleimani, the charismatic and influential Iranian commander of Al-Quds, the elite force of the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps. … Ironically, Gen. Soleimani has proved to be more instrumental in forging it in his death than in life. Walking around Tehran during the days of the mourning that followed his assassination, I witnessed its power and mechanics firsthand. … Around seven million people reportedly marched in memory of Soleimani in Tehran alone. Contrary to the nonsensical claims spread by Iranian monarchist and pro-MEK exiles and their neoconservative allies abroad, these people were neither forced by the government nor brainwashed by the propaganda into participating. To the extent the regime was successful in casting Soleimani as a national figure, it is because he was perceived as such by many, including opponents of the Islamic Republic. … Most importantly, Soleimani imbued Iranians with a sense of national pride. His successes allowed them to feel victorious. … [W]hen push comes to shove, whatever many Iranians’ disaffection towards the Islamic Republic, they are sure to defend Iran, its independence, territorial integrity and national dignity against external threats. That was true before Soleimani’s death, but it solidified the glue uniting Iranians, irrespective of their political and religious views. … It is high time to de-escalate and inaugurate a new era of dialogue with Iran.”
The European Parliament’s corruption case has been unprecedented. It has led to political scandals, judicial charges, loss of positions and even seats in Parliament. Eldar Mamedov has been one of the main actors in the unraveling corruption scandal.
For Iranian politics, Mamedov’s saga proves once again that individuals do not simply decide to conduct attacks against the MEK. Evidence shows that his pattern of behavior over the course of more than a decade produces solid justification for the conclusion that the Iranian regime’s lobbyists and apologists are supposed to attack the MEK at the direction of the clerical regime.
In a July 2017 interview with the state-run Apart TV, former Iranian Intelligence Minister Ali Fallahian revealed that the Ministry of Intelligence and Security (MOIS) has long used the services of ‘friendly journalists’ or ‘scholars’ to advance its agenda abroad, including its misinformation campaign. “We don’t send an agent to Germany or America and for example say, ok, I am an agent of the intelligence ministry. … Obviously, he would work under the cover of business or other jobs including reporters. You know, many of our reporters are actually Ministry agents,” he boasted.
For Mamedov to be removed from his position of influence at such a decision-making level at the European Parliament is a good start. Better late than never, as they say. However, what startles me is why did it take so long despite the countless hints evidencing his connections to the Iranian regime, a regime that stands way too far from our values and principles.
While his removal from his influential position is welcomed, to avoid such a situation in the future, it would be helpful for our democracy and for European Parliament as a respectable institution, if more details are provided about his conduct for so many years.
As someone who has happily served Europeans at the European Parliament for many years, I as well as many of my colleagues deserve to know the depth of this connection, as a lesson to be learned.
All this should set alarm bells in Western capitals. The regime is dealing with a strong nationwide uprising that has rocked Tehran’s security apparatus and political system. It is internationally isolated more than ever before. Betting on a losing horse should not be part of the West’s policy toward Iran.
The clock is ticking and the West should name and shame regime lobbyists and paid agents and clean house in order to formulate a pragmatic policy that supports the Iranian people and their legitimate organized resistance.