Kurdish-Iranian drug smuggler named as Iranian agent

Naji Sharifi Zindashti, the son of a Kurdish Iranian Peshmerga fighter, has been identified as an Iranian intelligence services asset who may have helped to kidnap an Iranian dissident in Istanbul, according to Iraqi Kurdish news service Rudaw.

Habib Chaab was an Iranian dissident living in Sweden, when he reportedly travelled to Istanbul to meet his ex-wife without telling his friends in October this year. A few days later he disappeared, and then was reported to have been arrested by Iranian media, who said he had confessed to being involved in a deadly attack on a military parade in Iran two years ago.

On Dec. 14, 13 people with connections to Zindashti were arrested by Turkish security services for their part in the kidnapping of Chaab.

According to Rudaw, “Zindashti came from a family highly respected by Urmia's Kurds. His grandfather, Omar Khan Sharifi Zindashti, was a leading figure during the Kurdistan Republic in Mahabad, where the Kurds tried to establish self-rule in the mid-1940s.” His father was a Peshmerga leader who died fighting the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) in 1983.

Zindashti seems to have first been arrested for drug smuggling by Iranian police in the early 2000s. After spending time in Evin Prison, he was released and settled in Istanbul in the mid 2000s. He was then arrested for heroin possession in 2007, and again received a light prison sentence after agreeing to testify against other drug dealers.

Zindashti then tried to get Turkish citizenship with the advice of Burhan Kuzu, a legal advisor to the Turkish government, but was unsuccessful. In 2014, his daughter was killed by a rival gang in retaliation for Zindashti tipping off authorities about a drug deal. A number of people were then killed in retaliation for the killing of Zindashti’s daughter, and he was detained in Istanbul on murder charges in April 2018, but was acquitted.

As well as the abduction of Chaab, Zindashti may have played a role in the killing of Masoud Molavi Vardanjani, a former Iranian cybersecurity worker who had fled the country and was living in Istanbul. Ali Esfanjani, an Iranian intelligence agent who had been with Vardanjani on the night of his killing was reportedly smuggled back to Iran by a drug smuggler, which could have been Zindashti.

Rudaw reported that Zindashti is reportedly living in Iran, and may have profited considerably from his relationship to the Iranian state: “These days, Zindashti resides in one of his several villas in Urmia. How Zindashti became an asset for the Iranian intelligence service is not clear, but the castle-like homes he has built in the area indicate some of its reward.”