The Special Branch of the city police deported 40-year-old Iranian national Hamid Kashkouli, who was pursuing his PhD programme, from the University of Pune (UoP) last month. He was found spying on city-based Israeli nationals and Israeli centres such as Chabad House in Koregaon Park, and the Rasta Peth Synagogue. It was also learnt that Kashkouli was on the payrolls of the Iranian intelligence.So, how many more Iranians are spying on synagogues and Jewish centers in far-flung countries?
Kashkouli was produced before a city court by the police with the evidence of his illegal activities during his stay here following which an order of deportation was passed against him.
He was then deported to Iran from Delhi, last month. Interestingly, the topic of Kashkouli’s thesis was ‘Foreign policy of the Islamic Republic of Iran during the presidency of Khatmi’. He had enrolled himself for the programme in 2007 at UoP’s Department of Defence and Strategic Studies.
He lived in Bavdhan and was an active member of the Iranian Students’ Association. Police claim Kashkouli worked as an undercover agent of the Iranian government. “He came to India under the pretext of being a student but was keeping a close eye on the Jewish centres in Pune.
He had collected information about visitors’ movements at the Chabad House and the Synagogue which he forwarded to intelligence officials in Tehran,” said an SB officer. The needle of suspicion pointed towards him especially when it was found he regularly travelled in a private car to the Iranian Consulate in Mumbai for unexplained reasons.
He used to hire a city-based driver for the purpose, whom the SB officials also detained for questioning. The driver, who had over a period of time become familiar with Kashkouli, said that he was employed by the Iranian government and that top government officials from Iran would often come down to Mumbai especially to meet him.
Intelligence officials zeroed in on Kashkouli’s movements in January 2011 when they stumbled upon the fact that in four years he had not been able to advance with his PhD thesis neither did he submit the progress report.
What was also curious is that, despite being a student, he did not have a Student’s or Research visa. Tracking the movements of foreign nationals, if they are on a tourist visa, which allows them free movement in the country, becomes a tedious task for authorities.
“This was a matter of grave concern, especially since he called himself a PhD student. The names of the foreign nationals coming to India are enrolled immediately but there is hardly any check on foreigners visiting India on Tourist visas,” the officer said.
Investigations at the Iranian Consulate in Mumbai revealed he was a government employee. His emails were intercepted and it was proven that he was an undercover agent for the Iranian government.
The emails that went across provided information about Jews living in Pune and businesses they were involved in. “We also investigated pictures he had taken and messages sent across,” said the officials. Investigations revealed that he was in touch with other Iranians in Delhi. Police are still in the process of verifying the calls he made to his compatriots in the national Capital.