September 17, 2014 / 3:15 PM / 4 years ago

France drops case against Iranian dissidents after 11-year probe

PARIS (Reuters) - Prosecuting judges in Paris on Wednesday dropped all charges of money laundering and fraud against nine people close to an exiled Iranian opposition group more than 10 years after they were arrested on terrorism charges.

The five women and four men were among 167 sympathizers of the People’s Mujahideen Organisation of Iran (PMOI) who were rounded up in 2003 during a police raid on the outskirts of Paris for questioning over possible links to terrorism and suspicion of money laundering.

Twenty-four people were originally placed under formal investigation, including Maryam Rajavi, the leader of the PMOI’s political wing, the National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI), on suspicion of “associating with wrongdoers in relation with a terrorist undertaking”.

But that judicial investigation lost momentum and many of the restrictions on the suspects’ movement were lifted in 2006 with only nine still investigated for possible money laundering.

The NCRI has repeatedly denied they had committed any wrongdoing accusing the Iranian government of working with French intelligence to taint the group.

“A case is now closed, but a new case will have to be opened ,” Rajavi, who has sought to rebrand the Paris-based group as a potential opposition force in Iran, said in a statement.

“The real criminals, who were involved in this dirty deal, those who ordered the arrests and ridiculed French justice for their political and economic interests, will have to face justice,” she said.

The Paris prosecutor’s office confirmed all charges had been dropped.

One of the PMOI’s lawyers, William Bourdon, told Reuters he had rarely seen a case last this long.

“The scrupulous action of (anti-terrorism judge) Trevidic put an end to this serious failing, if not compliance, of the French justice with the manipulation of the Mullahs,” he said.

Tehran has long called for a crackdown on the NCRI.

France’s foreign ministry in an unusually harsh statement said in June the group had no legal status in France criticizing it for its “violent and non-democratic leanings”, “cult nature” and intense “lobbying and disinformation efforts.”

The Mujahideen joined the 1979 Islamic revolution but later broke from the ruling clerics. Based in Iraq since the early 1980s, their fighters clashed with U.S. forces during the 2003 Iraq war, but have since renounced violence.

Many of its members remain stranded in Iraq as the group fell out of Baghdad’s favor after Saddam Hussein’s downfall.

The European Union had put the group — also known by its Farsi name Mujahideen-e-Khalq — on its list of banned “terrorist” organizations in May 2002, but did not include the NCRI. It was removed from the list in 2009. The United States classified the Mujahideen as terrorists until 2012.

(This story corrects the date of removal from EU terrorism list to 2009 in the last paragraph)

Reporting By John Irish and Chine Labbe; editing by Ralph Boulton

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