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British-Iranian man's kidnap in Dubai: Wife blames UK

By Jane Corbin
BBC Panorama, Dubai

image captionAtena and Abbas Yazdi moved to London in the 1990s and had two children

The wife of a British businessman who went missing in Dubai has said she blames the UK government for his disappearance.

Abbas Yazdi is thought to have been kidnapped by Iranian intelligence agents last June after the Serious Fraud Office passed on his private business documents to Iran.

Neither the Serious Fraud Office nor the Home Office would comment.

Last month, three Iranians were arrested in connection with the case.

Atena Yazdi says she has been told by the Foreign Office it believes her husband died during the abduction but no-one is able to confirm this. She said the uncertainty is hard to bear.

"It's not only me, it's the kids," she said.

"I can't tell them if Abbas is alive. I can't tell them he is dead because I don't believe it," she added.

image captionAfter Mr Yazdi disappeared, the family were given police protection in Britain, but have since returned to Dubai

Mr Yazdi was born in Iran but fled after he was imprisoned there at the age of 24.

His family say he was a victim of political infighting between moderates and hardliners in the Islamic state. He moved to Britain in the 1990s and the couple's children were born in London.

In 2003, Mr Yazdi's private business records were seized by the Serious Fraud Office (SFO) at the request of the Norwegian authorities, who were investigating allegations of bribery. There were no charges against Mr Yazdi. The following year he moved his family to Dubai.

Years later Mr Yazdi would discover that the SFO passed his records on to the Iranian state in several batches over a period of five years when President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was in office.

"This is unbelievable because Abbas warned them that they are putting his life in danger by passing all this information to Iran," Mrs Yazdi said.

She said 20,000 pages had been passed on and that the handover continued for years, even after the British embassy in Tehran was attacked in 2011 and diplomatic staff were recalled.

According to Mrs Yazdi, the SFO even sent a copy of her husband's computer address book to Iran. She told the programme two people are missing and two are in prison because of this information.

She said it was "terrible" that the UK authorities had also provided the Iranians with Mr Yazdi's office address in Dubai, the very place from where he was abducted on 25 June last year.

media captionAtena Yazdi: "I can't tell them he's dead"

That day, Mr Yazdi called his wife at 5.30pm to say he was coming home and headed downstairs to the underground car park.

'Bundled into his own car'

Panorama has learned that three men made their way there that afternoon from Deira, the Iranian quarter of Dubai. They had rented a flat there over several months while they kept watch on him and planned the abduction.

It is believed the men bundled Mr Yazdi into his own car, drove up the ramp and out into the rush-hour traffic. A tollgate recorded the car on the motorway heading for the port of Sharjah. His car was later found abandoned.

"It was a terrible, terrible night," recalls Mrs Yazdi. "I warned the Dubai authorities Abbas has been kidnapped and they are going to take him to Iran."

Panorama has been told that a witness saw Mr Yazdi being taken on board a boat at the port at dawn the next day, which set sail across the water towards Iran.

Last month, three Iranians were arrested by the Dubai security services - caught trying to dispose of Mr Yazdi's wallet, credit cards and passport.

One of the suspects, thought to be the gang leader, has since died in custody. Mrs Yazdi had hoped he might reveal to the authorities what happened to her husband.

Long-running dispute

Mr Yazdi's case is being raised in Parliament by Emily Thornberry, the shadow attorney general.

"When I ask questions I am not getting answers," she said. "We're talking about the… safety of a British citizen. There should be some accountability."

The SFO said it could not comment and referred Panorama to the Home Office, which oversees legal requests from abroad. The Home Office said it cannot comment on such requests.

Lord Macdonald of River Glaven QC, the former Director of Public Prosecutions, was instructed by clients involved in a long-running dispute with Iran to intervene on Mr Yazdi's behalf about the handover of his documents.

He said he warned Home Secretary Theresa May that Mr Yazdi's life was in danger before his abduction. Lord Macdonald could not get an appointment with her and said she should now explain why Mr Yazdi's private information was passed to Iran.

"I don't think it's any good for them to stonewall," he said. "That's a ludicrous position, with respect to the Home Office, to be adopting.

'Save him'

"They really need to provide an explanation about what they were doing and why they were doing it. I think this is sufficiently serious for the home secretary to direct her personal attention to it."

Mrs Yazdi said Britain must share responsibility for her husband's disappearance.

"I do blame the Serious Fraud Office and I do blame UK government. They put Abbas and many other people's lives in danger. And now I urge them to stand up and find out what happened and to save him," she said.

Mrs Yazdi believes her husband's abduction may have been linked to political infighting in Iran between hardliners and their more moderate rivals because of his friendship with the son of former President Ali Akhbar Hashemi Rafsanjani.

The new Iranian government, which took over from the hardliners after Mr Yazdi's disappearance, has said it is concerned about what has happened to him. But it refused to speak to Panorama.

Mrs Yazdi told the programme "I won't give up until I find out exactly where Abbas is, whatever time it takes."

Panorama - Kidnapped: Betrayed by Britain?, BBC One, Monday, 24 February, at 20:30 GMT and then available in the UK on the BBC iPlayer.

More on this story

  • Missing Iranian-British man: Three arrested in Dubai