A Liberal Member of Parliament has acknowledged meeting an Iranian businessman accused of helping Tehran circumvent international sanctions, but said he was unaware of the allegations at the time.
A photo posted on Twitter on Wednesday showed Majid Jowhari, MP for Richmond Hill, with Alireza Onghaei, who faces allegations he helped the government of Iran funnel money into Canada.
“I met Mr. Alireza Onghaei in early 2018 through social circles within the Persian community; however, I have not had, nor do I have any professional dealings with him,” Jowhari said in a statement.
The photo appeared to have been taken in the Parliamentary Library. Jowhari’s office did not respond to questions about where the photo was taken, or under what circumstances.
Elections Canada records show that an Alireza Onghaei donated $240 to Jowhari’s Richmond Hill Liberal riding association on Dec. 3, 2019.
On Nov. 27 and 28, 2019, Onghaei was interviewed by the Canadian Security Intelligence Service, which alleged he had admitted to “assisting the government of Iran in the clandestine wiring of monies into Canada.”
The MP said he was “not aware of the serious allegations” until they were reported by Global News on Tuesday.
“Had I known about them, I would not have associated myself with Mr. Onghaei,” he said. “I denounce any foreign interference in Canada.”
The photo and party donation were raised by the Conservatives on Wednesday at the Standing Committee on Public Safety and National Security, but Public Safety Minister Bill Blair declined to go into details.
“Our officials have done, I think, a very exemplary job in identifying and gathering the evidence in order to deal effectively with this threat, and I’m unable to discuss particular elements of that investigation in this forum,” the minister said.
On Tuesday, Global News reported that CSIS had alleged in a Dec. 20, 2019 report that Onghaei had been implicated in activities that contravened Canada’s Iran sanctions.
CSIS called the financial transfers, which were allegedly funnelled through Dubai, a threat to national security and cited “foreign influenced activities” detrimental to Canada.
Court records also show that an Interpol notice issued in 2011 indicated he was wanted in Dubai for passing millions worth of bad cheques. He said the matter had been resolved.
Onghaei, who lives in Vaughan, Ont., has operated several businesses since coming to Canada in 2008 as an investor immigrant. He denied the allegations and said CSIS had misrepresented the contents of his interview.
Conservative leader Erin O’Toole said foreign influence was “an important national security issue that the Trudeau government must address.”
“This report is truly disturbing and exposes the degree to which the Iranian regime is operating within Canada,” he said in a statement to Global News.
The Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs said it was “very concerned about Mr. Onghaei’s alleged activity in Canada, and are particularly concerned that, according to CSIS, he ‘provided support to a listed entity’ linked to Iran.”
“Iran is the world’s largest state sponsor of terrorism; Iranian-backed listed entities are directly tied to terrorist attacks against the Jewish community,” CIJA vice-president Martin Sampson said.
Sampson urged Canada to “investigate thoroughly and, if warranted, expedite Mr. Onghaei’s deportation. Canada and Canadians cannot be allowed to be complicit in Iranian terrorism.”
The CSIS report was filed in Federal Court as part of a case filed by Onghaei, who is seeking Canadian citizenship.
Blair’s spokesperson, Mary-Liz Power, said it was unacceptable that “foreign actors have attempted to monitor, intimidate or threaten Canadians. We are aware of such incidents taking place on Canadian soil.”
“We will not tolerate any form of interference from hostile state actors or their representatives. We will not hesitate to respond appropriately when foreign representatives make threats against Canadians.”