U.S.-Iranian businessman’s jailing sends chilling message to investors

When Iran and the United States sealed the implementation of a deal to curb Tehran's nuclear program with a prisoner exchange last month, Siamak Namazi was among the detainees some expected to be freed by the Iranian authorities.

The businessman with dual U.S.-Iranian citizenship was on a list of four prisoners to be released published by the official Islamic Republic News Agency and the Tabnak website on the day of the swap, Jan. 16. His name was withdrawn with an apology but no explanation.

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry told reporters the following day he had commitments from Iran that Namazi's case would be resolved.

But the 44-year-old Dubai-based executive, distinguished by the World Economic Forum as a “Young Global Leader”, is still in Tehran's Evin prison, where former political inmates say torture is frequent during interrogations. Close friends say his conditions have deteriorated.

While Iran announces multi-billion-euro deals with European multinationals, Namazi's case sends a chilling message to expatriates who hope to participate in the economic opening following the lifting of sanctions.

Far from being welcomed back for their skills and international connections, they may end up behind bars or worse.

Namazi has not been charged with any offense and Iranian justice authorities declined in response to Reuters requests to give an official explanation for his continued detention.

Asked what it was doing to win his release, the U.S. State Department declined comment on the individual case, citing “privacy concerns”.

“The U.S. government does everything and will continue to do everything it can on behalf of its citizens detained around the world who request our assistance,” said Sam Werberg, press officer for the Office of Iranian Affairs.

Friends say Namazi may have become a pawn in factional struggles among hardliners, pragmatists and reformers, each with economic as well as political interests. Some fear he may be being softened up for a televised “confession” – a specialty of Iran's judicial system.

Conservatives close to Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei have warned that Iranian-Americans may use business ventures to infiltrate Iran and bring about a soft version of the “regime change” that U.S. hawks have long sought to achieve in Tehran.

“They connect dual citizens like Siamak who are active in business and society as 'agents of infiltration', which is a complete misperception,” said Bijan Khajehpour, a Vienna-based business consultant who is Namazi's cousin by marriage.

Some Iranian political experts, unwilling to be identified because of the sensitivity of the case, say Namazi may have been arrested because he is seen as part of business circles close to ex-president Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, a veteran power broker.

Rafsanjani and current President Hassan Rouhani are backing pragmatic and reformist candidates in an effort to wrest control of parliament from conservatives in elections on Feb. 26.

Hardline clerics in the Guardian Council loyal to Khamenei have barred hundreds of candidates from contesting the poll, questioning their loyalty to the Islamic Republic system.


Five Iranian-American groups wrote to Kerry last week urging him to work for the release of Namazi, who they said had been “left behind”. They called him “an American who has worked tirelessly as a bridge-builder of cultures, countries, and faiths”.

A fellow Young Global Leader from the United States, who requested anonymity, said she had been impressed by Namazi's passion for opening up his country to the world.

“It sends a chilling message to other Young Global Leaders. People fear engaging economically with Iran when someone who advocates for investment is thrown in jail,” she said.

Before moving to Dubai, Namazi worked until 2007 for Atieh Bahar Group, a Tehran-based business consultancy founded by Khajehpour that helped foreign investors navigate the murky waters of Iran's heavily regulated and opaque economy, as well as providing expertise to Iranian business schools.

Their clients included Western oil majors such as BP, Shell and Statoil, as well as industrial corporations such as Siemens and Toyota.

In the 1990s, after reformist Mohammad Khatami was elected president, Namazi and a U.S.-Iranian friend, Trita Parsi, who now heads the pro-dialogue National Iranian American Council, authored a report on how dual nationals could help overcome decades of suspicion between Washington and Tehran.

In 2009, Khajehpour was arrested by the Revolutionary Guards Intelligence Corps on his return to Iran from Europe in the midst of protests against the alleged rigging of the re-election of then President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

Although he took no part in those protests, Khajehpour was held for more than three months in Evin on accusations of espionage before being released on bail and eventually leaving the country.

Namazi sold his shares in Atieh Bahar in 2007 and it is not clear whether his arrest is connected to Khajehpour's case.

The deal between Iran and major powers, signed in Vienna last July, was officially implemented on Jan. 16 after the International Atomic Energy Agency declared Tehran had curbed its nuclear program.

A few days after the signing, Namazi was stopped at Tehran Airport on July 18 when trying to fly back to Dubai after visiting his parents, relatives say. Revolutionary Guards took his passport and showed him a warrant saying he would be called in for investigation.

He was interrogated several times between July and Oct. 14, when he was taken to Evin prison. At the time of his arrest, he was working for Dubai-based Crescent Petroleum, but he told friends the questioning centered on his connections with U.S. institutions and with other WEF Young Global Leaders.

Secret negotiations on the prisoner swap involving Washington Post journalist Jason Rezaian and others were well advanced by the time he was detained.

Namazi is not the only dual national being held in apparent connection with Iran's power struggles. Bahman Daroshafaei, a former BBC Persian service journalist, was detained in Tehran last week, according to the opposition website Kaleme.com. His family was told on Saturday that he too was in Evin prison.

Opposition activists have suggested that Daroshafaei's arrest, on the eve of the first visit to Britain by an Iranian foreign minister in 12 years, might have been orchestrated by hardliners to thwart an improvement in relations.

Another Iranian-British citizen, Kamal Foroughi, remains in detention after being arrested in 2011 while working in Tehran as a business consultant.

Abraham Spiegel

Abraham Spiegel, a survivor of four concentration camps, who built a new life in America as a successful businessman, philanthropist and ardent supporter of Jewish life in the United States and Israel, died April 10 in his home at the age of 97.

Among his major legacies are the Children’s Memorial at the Yad Vashem Holocaust memorial in Jerusalem, the Spiegel Family Building at the Museum of the Jewish Diaspora in Tel Aviv and the Spiegel Family Park, also in Tel Aviv.

In Los Angeles, he was instrumental in establishing the Yeshiva University of Los Angeles High School and Yavneh Hebrew Academy, and served on the city’s 1984 Olympics Commission and other civic bodies.

Spiegel was born in Mukachevo, in what is now Ukraine, the son of a lumber mill owner. He married his lifelong companion Edita in 1940 and in 1944 the couple and their 2 1/2-year-old son, Uziel, were shipped to Auschwitz. The parents survived, but their son perished.

After being liberated by the Russian army, Spiegel, with his wife, arrived in 1947 in the United States at age 40, with few resources and little knowledge of English.

Within a relatively short time, Spiegel established himself as a highly successful builder of tract homes and later as chairman of two savings and loan banks.

Once financially secure, his major interest turned to philanthropy. He became the first West Coast chairman of support groups for the city of Tel Aviv, Yad Vashem, Tel Aviv University and Bar-Ilan University. He endowed academic chairs at the two universities and served on their governing boards.

A high-spirited and openhanded personality, Spiegel counted among his friends Israeli Prime Ministers Menachem Begin, Yitzhak Shamir, Yitzhak Rabin and Ariel Sharon, while at home he was a close friend and confidant of Los Angeles Mayor Tom Bradley.

Holocaust scholar Michael Berenbaum met Spiegel during their joint work in establishing the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum, and he recalled his friend as a "powerful, determined and passionate man. Abe belonged to the generation of Jews who were involved in every aspect of Jewish life."

Yuval Rotem, Israel’s consul general in Los Angeles, praised Spiegel’s "enormous contributions to the State of Israel…. I think Abe felt that if a Jewish state had existed in the early 1940s, his son might still be alive."

John Fishel, president of The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles, noted that Spiegel’s death "leaves a large vacuum in the Jewish life of Los Angeles. He personified a large segment of Jewish history in the 20th century."

A longtime friend and fellow survivor, Nathan Shapell, remembered vividly that "Abe never seemed to tire, he was always working for a cause."

Spiegel also maintained close personal relations with a number of Egyptian leaders, and at times served as an intermediary between Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak and Israeli Prime Minister Shamir.

Funeral services were held Sunday at Temple Beth Am and the Home of Peace Memorial Park, where Spiegel was buried next to Edita, who died in 1999 after 59 years of marriage.

Public memorial services are planned for Los Angeles and Tel Aviv.

Spiegel is survived by his children, Tom and Rita; daughter-in-law, Helene; grandchildren, Barak and Ron Diskin and Anthony, Evan and Josef; great-granddaughter, Stella; brother, Aron; and sisters, Shirley Gluck and Blanca Roven Wintner.

Patriots Owner Scores Big Among Jews, Too

Robert Kraft, Jewish businessman and philanthropist, nearly leapt through the glass window of his skybox at the Superdome in New Orleans as the clock ticked down and the 20-17 victory over the heavily favored St. Louis Rams brought the team he owns, the New England Patriots, its first Super Bowl title. Along with his wife, Myra, Kraft has been heavily involved in Jewish and non-Jewish projects throughout New England, New York and Israel. The Krafts, in collaboration with Combined Jewish Philanthropies, sponsor the Myra and Robert Kraft Passport to Israel Fund, which has helped thousands of children involved in Jewish studies take an educational trip to Israel sometime between their sophomore and senior years of high school.

In addition, Kraft is the primary shareholder of Carmel Container Systems, Israel’s largest packaging plant.

In 1999, Kraft brought his love of football to Israel in the form of a Kraft Stadium, at the northern end of Sacher Park in Jerusalem, used to accommodate the Jerusalem-based American Touch Football in Israel league.

Kraft’s father, Harry Kraft, was a highly respected leader in the Jewish community of Brookline, a Boston suburb.

Myra Kraft, a 1964 Brandeis graduate and the daughter of Boston philanthropist Jacob Hiatt, has been a trustee at Brandeis since 1988.

Kraft’s Jewish identity has even occasionally trickled into his position as owner of the Patriots.

On Sept. 22, 1996, he asked that the kickoff of a game between the Patriots and the Jacksonville Jaguars be changed to avoid a conflict with Yom Kippur, which started at sundown that evening. — Jacob Horowitz, Jewish Telegraphic Agency

A Knight’s Tale

Philanthropist and art benefactor Sir Arthur Gilbert died at his Beverly Hills home Sunday of a heart attack. He was 88 and had struggled with cancer and diabetes. The Journal had slated the following profile of Gilbert, a leading philanthropist, art collector and businessman, to run in this issue. Anita Chabria met with him last week.

Sir Arthur Gilbert was one of Los Angeles’ few resident knights, having been honored by the Queen of England two years ago, but he was best-known here as a philanthropist and real estate entrepreneur who helped shape his adopted city.

Born Arthur Bernstein in 1913, Gilbert came to the United States from London in 1949. Early in life, he and his first wife, Rosalinde, who passed away in 1995 from Alzheimer’s disease, ran an exclusive evening wear manufacturing company that catered to London’s post-war wealthy. But Gilbert felt that taxes were too high in his homeland, and longed for better weather. He found it in Los Angeles.

Most of Gilbert’s fortune came from real estate. He had dabbled in commercial real estate with his older brother while living in London, but it wasn’t until his immigration to the States that land deals became a focus.

In 1955, he purchased 100 acres in the then-barren City of Commerce. Since then, he had been involved in scores of projects, including the coup of bringing Barney’s New York to Beverly Hills in a long-term lease at his building in a prime strip of Wilshire Boulevard. Other projects include the Union Bank building at the corner of Beverly and Wilshire and Gibraltar Square in Beverly Hills. When buying real estate, Gilbert always felt that location was the most important feature. His motto was “always buy the best you can,” says longtime friend Richard Ziman.

Despite the numerous projects he created, Gilbert once told a newspaper reporter that the only one of his buildings he ever liked was the modern home he built for himself on a bluff in Coldwater Canyon.

Gilbert was also a philanthropist with a list of pet projects that spanned the globe. He was a founder of the Music Center, and a major supporter of Technion-Israel Institute of Technology, from which he received the Albert Einstein Award in 1978.

In 1999 he received an Honorary Doctorate of Philosophy by the Hebrew University of Jerusalem for his long-term support, including a $25 million donation to the Hebrew University’s Rothberg International School. He had attended the university’s opening in 1925, when he was 12 years old.

Gilbert’s father, one of England’s most prominent furriers, was very religious and lived six months of each year in Israel. Although Gilbert remained in boarding school in London during most of those family excursions, the deep commitment he had toward Israel and Jewish causes can be seen in his long legacy of giving.

Aside from philanthropy and real estate, Gilbert was known for two personal passions: playing tennis and collecting art.

Gilbert was more often found in workout clothes than business suits, according to friends, and made it a point to play tennis every day when in good health. He even refused to work on Wednesdays, instead dubbing it his “holy day” and spending it at his tennis club, says wife Marjorie Gilbert.

“Arthur never wore long pants before 6 o’clock,” said Ziman, who added that Gilbert was most often found in trademark yellow shorts.

But it was Gilbert’s second passion — art collecting — that created a legacy worthy of a knighthood.

He began collecting silver and gold pieces solely to furnish his Coldwater Canyon home in 1960. Within 15 years, he had amassed a collection significant enough to warrant an exhibit in the Victoria and Albert Museum in London.

“He bought everything he saw,” says Jeanette Hanisee Gabriel, private curator of Gilbert’s collections.

He originally intended to give his silver and mosaic collections to LACMA, but had increasingly tense relations with the museum over where and how the collections would be displayed. By 1996, Gilbert was on poor terms with the L.A. museum, and instead gave the pieces to the Somerset House in England. The recently redone museum on the Thames River will use the silver collection as its centerpiece, giving his contributions 25,000 square feet of exhibition space. The decorative arts collection on display contains more than 800 pieces of gold and silver. He also amassed one of the most significant collections of Italian mosaics in the world, matched only by the Hermitage Museum in St. Petersburg, Russia.

For donating those collections, valued at more than $125 million, Queen Elizabeth II gave Gilbert a knighthood in 1999.

“He wanted the public to enjoy his art,” says Marjorie Gilbert. “From Day One, Arthur never built the collection for himself.”

Services for Gilbert will be held Fri., September 7 at 12 noon at Hillside Mortuary.

Gilbert is survived by Lady Marjorie Gilbert, her daughter Susan and granddaughter Ashley; by his son Colin, granddaughter Windy (Terry) Gallagher; great-grandsons Patrick, Keelan, Colin and his sister Mathilda Barnett.

Donations may be sent to the American Diabetes Association, 6300 Wilshire Blvd., Los Angeles, 90048.