Former Post-Doc Will Stand Trial

Afrasiabi Denies Extortion Charge, Cites 'Mind-Blowing Conspiracy'

A former Harvard postdoctoral fellow will likely stand trial this spring on charges of extorting $500 from a research associate in the Center for Middle Eastern Studies.

Kaveh Afrasiabi, who was arrested at his home on January 17, said he is innocent of the charges against him.

Calling himself "a hostage of Harvardian politics," Afrasiabi said he has been framed and faces "trumped-up charges" in an elaborate conspiracy, in which he said he believes Harvard Police and University officials may have participated.

"There are people at Harvard out for my blood," Afrasiabi said. "Such a mind-blowing conspiracy could not possibly have occurred without the participation or approval of some administrators at Harvard."

Harvard and local law enforcement officials stand behind the police investigation and the charges against Afrasiabi.

"I compliment the police on their investigation and I look forward to seeing justice prevail in a court of law," said Harvard spokesperson Joe Wrinn.

John P. Towle, a spokesperson for the Middlesex County District Attorney's office, said there is adequate evidence to pursue the case against Afrasiabi.

"At this point we are moving ahead based on the merits of the evidence," Towle said.

At a bail hearing held at the end of January, Afrasiabi's lawyer asked the judge to dismiss the charges because the prosecution's only witness, Shobhana Rana '89, failed to identify Afrasiabi.

The judge did not throw out the case, Afrasiabi said, because Harvard Police Detective Richard Mederos introduced a statement in which Afrasiabi reportedly admitted his guilt in the case, a statement Afrasiabi denied making.

Mederos declined to comment for this story, saying he did not wish to compromise the case in any way.

Towle said that although prosecutors were surprised when Rana could not identify the suspect, the prosecution has enough evidence for a trial to go forward.

And Afrasiabi said that even if the prosecution did want to drop the case, he would demand a trial to ensure that his innocence was proven.

Afrasiabi said he intends to sue the University because, he said, Harvard officials had a "strong intent to demolish my public character."

According to Afrasiabi, his arrest and upcoming pre-trial hearing--set for March 12--are the culmination of five years of feuding with Gurney Professor of History Roy P. Mottahedeh, the former director of Harvard's Center for Middle Eastern studies.

Mottahedeh and his allies, Afrasiabi contends, intended to blacken his reputation but did not expect the case to go to trial.

But Reza Alavi, the research associate who was the target of the alleged extortion, calls the notion of a plot "just too ridiculous to comment on." He said he barely knows Afrasiabi and that he has left the case up to the police.

"I did receive these letters of hatred and threat to my life, and the police investigated," Alavi said.

"I know [Afrasiabi] has had trouble with the center but I don't know much about it," he added.

According to a police report, Rana said she received a message on her mailbox threatening to kill Alavi unless the extortionist was left $500.

After the two met at Au Bon Pain, the report continues, the extortionist called Rana and asked to meet again. Rana, the report says, gave the extortionist $250 at the third and $250 at a fourth meeting two days later.

The report says the extortionist criticized Alavi at the meetings at Au Bon Pain, saying he had "frauded his way through life" and accusing Western-educated Iranians of looking down on other Iranians.

Based on Rana's description of the suspect, Alavi told police of his suspicion of Afrasiabi.

On November 18, Alavi received an envelope addressed to him containing a letter of apology and $500 in cash, according to the report.

But Afrasiabi charges that the police report contains numerous factual errors and inconsistencies.

"I have analyzed this report 100 times and this is my conclusion: that some people have come up with a fictional extortionist and put in him the worst Middle Eastern stereotypes," Afrasiabi said.

He also charged the police with racist conduct.

"If my name was DuPont they never would have done this to me, but there is a flagrant racist aspect to this," he said.

Two disagreements led to the animosity between Afrasiabi and Mottahedeh, Afrasiabi said.

First, Afrasiabi wrote articles for a weekly publication in Tehran encouraging the Iranian government to restore relations with the United States. Mottahedeh told Afrasiabi the articles were too controversial and that he was exploiting his Harvard affiliation, Afrasiabi said.

Second, in an incident Afrasiabi labeled "the real blowing point," he worked with the television program "60 Minutes" to arrange an interview with Iranian leaders and with exiled author Salman Rushdie.

Afrasiabi said that Mottahedeh, when he found out about Afrasiabi's efforts, called him to his office and told him he had to stop the negotiations.

According to Afrasiabi, Mottahedeh was concerned that Harvard would be associated with the effort to get Rushdie clemency and, as a result, would lose lucrative deals with Rushdie's opponents.

After these two incidents, Afrasiabi charged, Mottahedeh began a campaign to discredit Afrasiabi in academic and professional circles.

In July 1993, Afrasiabi bought an advertisement in The Crimson defending himself against what he called "Mottahedeh's character assassination."

Last fall, Afrasiabi filed a formal complaint against Mottahedeh with the Ethics Committee of the Mid-East Studies Association