International Policy Digest

World News /21 Nov 2019

Azima’s Initial Reaction to the Hacking of his Information Tells the Story

To hear Farhad Azima tell the story today, it’s all Ras Al Khaimah’s fault.

It’s Ras Al Khaimah’s fault his information was hacked. It’s Ras Al Khaimah’s fault he’s now struggling financially. Indeed, the last three years of scandal and court action related to his alleged frauds and the hacking of his personal information is all Ras Al Khaimah’s fault.

And yet, when Azima first learned that tens of thousands of pages of his personal records were now splashed across the Internet for all to see, his initial reaction wasn’t to blame RAK, a London court heard last week, it was to wonder who was behind it. “Someone has set this up with no good intent,” Azima mused in a contemporaneous email to his PR advisors.

To give Azima credit, he had a lengthy list of potential enemies who might wish to cause him embarrassment, if not actual harm; such is the price of decades spent flying weapons into places like Pakistan and Afghanistan, as Azima has done.

Take Iran. The Iranian-born Azima has a chequered business history with his country of origin dating back to the 1980’s Iran-Contra Affair. And his most recent business with Iranians – brokering the sale of the RAK-owned Sheraton Hotel in Tbilisi, Georgia in 2011 to men with suspected Iranian Revolutionary Guard connections – had been contentious. The three Iranian businessmen in question – Houshang Hosseinpour, Pourya Nayebi, and Houshang Farsoudeh – were also involved in buying shares of an Azima company and one of them – Hosseinpour – was also in for the Conquistador II, the luxury yacht Azima used to provide wine, women, and song for his extensive list of contacts including, famously, the Wall Street Journal’s Jay Solomon.

The yacht deal would end up collapsing, although not until after Azima had apparently swindled Hosseinpour. Leaked email traffic over the course of 2011 and 2012 certainly reveals an increasing hostility between the two men, with Hosseinpour writing a terse email to Azima in July 2012 saying things like: “you cheat us”; and “why we paid $1.3 million to Mr. Farhad? For nothing.”

Iranian frustration with Azima could explain why the regime detained Azima’s employee Afsaneh Azadeh (also one of Azima’s lovers, according to the leaked emails) following her arrival in Tehran in May 2012. Azadeh was beaten by her captors and later confided to Azima that her interrogators had access to some of their private communications. Azadeh was eventually able to flee Iran in May 2013, but only after a payment suspiciously close to the amount Azima had taken from Hosseinpour was made. Azadeh and Azima subsequently reunited in Georgia and the Solomon story outlining the three Iranians’ network in Georgia appeared the very next month. Payback, it appeared, was Azima’s.

But who was Azima angering?

The hotel and yacht deals were only the tip of the iceberg for Hosseinpour, Nayebi, and Farsoudeh. The three Iranians were, in fact, central to a massive $1 billion sanctions-evasion regime enabled by a Korean-American businessman named Kenneth Zong. When Azima collaborated with Solomon to bring this lucrative network to the public’s attention via the Wall Street Journal, an act that ultimately led to the three Iranians being placed on the U.S. State Department’s sanctions list, he made a potent enemy.

Azima had also upset Ras Al Khaimah by the time of Solomon’s blockbuster story. The leaked emails prove that Azima had placed the Emirate in his sights as early as August 2013, when he invited Solomon down to his luxury yacht to meet Khater Massaad, the former head of RAKIA, the Emirate’s investment authority, a man who had been central to Azima’s deal-making with the Emirate. And what was Azima’s carrot? A similar story to his Georgia exclusive, this time starring Ras Al Khaimah. What’s not clear is whether Azima also told Solomon that Massaad was by that point being pursued by RAK for overseeing an estimated $1.5 billion fraud at RAKIA.

Despite Azima’s best efforts, Solomon didn’t end up publishing a story about Ras Al Khaimah. Undaunted, Azima pushed on, offering Massaad the services of his lawyer Kirby Behre the following year, who in turn quickly assembled a team of ex-CIA operatives and an ex-journalist to dig up dirt on the Emirate in an effort to discredit their investigation of Massaad’s alleged frauds. Azima clearly wanted his friend and meal ticket off the Emirate’s legal menu.

It was while RAK and Massaad were in discussions over a resolution to their dispute that Azima overstepped his mark. While negotiating the resolution of his own joint venture with the Emirate – the subject of the $2.6 million fraud case now before the UK High Court – Azima was simultaneously signed up to Behre’s law firm Miller & Chevalier as an adviser on Massaad’s case. It was only once Azima’s information was made public – an act Azima now claims was perpetrated by RAK – that the Emirate discovered Azima’s deception on the joint venture along with his duplicity of his efforts to ‘mediate’ the dispute with Massaad.

One problem with Azima’s hacking allegation is that it doesn’t have much in the way of evidence to support it, a fact the UK High Court noted this week as it struck out critical sections of his claim, ordering Azima to pay another £58,000 in court costs in the process, bringing his total to £180,000. Also struck out were two witness statements supporting Azima, including one from Major General (retd) John Holmes, whom the leaked emails reveal was, along with Azima, involved in a separate apparent fraud involving the Emirate, a bogus intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance contract to surveil a foreign country from RAK’s shores.

That country? Iran. Is it any wonder people are upset with Farhad Azima?