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Newspaper says Iran financed IRA

LONDON, Aug. 21 -- The Iranian government has given the Irish Republican Army millions of dollars through a secret Channel Islands bank account run by an agent of the violent Hezbollah group, the London Sunday Times said Sunday. The secret $30 million (20 million pound) fund was referred to by Iranian officials as the 'Jersey fund,' referring to one of the largest of the British Channel Islands south of Britain near the French coast, The Times quoted a former Iranian official as saying. The Times quoted Mir Ali Montazam, former first secretary at the Iranian Embassy in London for six years, as saying a revolving fund was set up in 1984 with about $6 million (4 million pounds) from the illegal sale of art from the embassy and increased to about $30 million (20 million pounds). Montazam said he saw a gaberdine case filled with gold bars and stacks of new banknotes used to open the account, and later saw a letter from the Bank Melli Iran in Kensington, London, stating that a $6 million account had been opened in Jersey 'as the embassy requested.' The Times quoted British intelligence sources as saying they were scrutinizing accounts in Jersey and the Bahamas for accounts with IRA- Iranian links. Montazam did not know if the fund was still being used, the Times said. The charges come as an Argentine judge is blaming Iranians with connections to the Iranian Embassy in Buenos Aires for the July bombing of a Jewish center that killed 99 people.

Hezbollah is suspected in two bomb attacks at Israeli buildings in London, also in July. Montazam said Iranian agent Hadi Ghaffari, nicknamed the 'machinegun mullah' for killing 60 people during the Iranian Revolution, organized distribution of money from the fund. Ghaffari put an agent in charge of the fund who had trained with the Hezbollah, an Iranian-backed armed group operating in Lebanon that has been blamed for terrorist attacks, the Times said. Montazam said the Hezbollah agent, who worked in the embassy press section, was instructed to visit Ireland to distribute funds in 1984 and 1985 and that other trips had been planned. Earlier this year the Iranian charge d'affaires was summoned to the Foreign Office to be reprimanded after the British government revealed meetings between the IRA and Iranian officials. The Times said Sean O'Callaghan, former head of the IRA southern command now jailed on murder charges, had said over the weekend that the IRA met an Iranian in Galway in 1984. Montazam defected in 1988 after increasing differences with hardliners in the embassy who had replaced career diplomats, the Times said. 'Key positions were filled by a gardener, a mechanic and a tailor's assistant, leaving him the only remaining diplomat in London that spoke English,' the Times said. Montazam lives at a secret address because he believes his life is in permanent danger, the newspaper said. He has written a biography of the Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, the religious leader who led the Iranian Revolution, that is expected to go on sale this year.

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