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Iranian Ambassador Discusses Shoplifting Incident

May 23, 1986

NEW YORK (AP) _ Iran’s ambassador to the United Nations says accusations that he shoplifted a $99.99 raincoat represent an FBI attempt at blackmail to collect information from him and embarrass his government.

″It’s a very serious embarrassment and it’s a slanderous situation,″ Said Rajaie-Khorassani said he told U.N. officials in reporting the May 7 incident.

Rajaie-Khorassani, 50, who was released without charges because of diplomatic immunity, said at a news conference that he would have been proven innocent had he been accused in Iran.

Police say Rajaie-Khorassani tried on the raincoat at an Alexander’s store in Manhattan and ripped off the price tag. He tried to leave but was stopped by security guards who called the FBI, which said he was immune from prosecution, according to police.

The ambassador said Thursday he went to a mirror to try a coat on, gathered the tags in his hand and placed the hand in his pocket. He said he was on his way to return the coat to the rack when he was stopped.

He said the FBI agent told him, ″Don’t worry. We will handle it easily. ... We know you. You have certain opinions of the United States. We should talk these things over.″

Rajaie-Khorassani said he thought: ″First there is the setup and now there is the discussion of bilateral relations.″

The ambassador said the store officials then returned with the coat’s tags in hand, contending they were found on the floor.

He said the FBI agent repeatedly suggested they go to his car and talk. ″I’m sure you don’t like these things to come to the press″ or reach the ears of Iranian superiors, the FBI agent said, according to the ambassador.

After he was released, Rajaie-Khorassani said, he received two calls from the agent, again suggesting that they meet to talk over lunch.

He said the FBI agent had tried to exploit the incident for ″blackmail to collect information.″

The FBI in New York refused to comment.

At Alexander’s, Ed Dreher, vice president for security, said: ″Alexander’s position is that we have no comment.″

Rajaie-Khorassani has been at the United Nations for four years. His speeches often are filled with denunciations of the United States and Israel, and he has been a leader of efforts to expel Israel from the world body.

Under Islamic law in Iran, he said, ″I believe the penalty for stealing is the chopping of the hand.″

However, such offenses in Iran are generally in the jurisdiction of civil courts, where a penalty of up to three years in jail could be assessed, rather than in the revolutionary courts, where the harsher Islamic law might apply.

A person without diplomatic immunity in such a circumstance could be charged with petty larceny and sentenced to up to a year in jail if convicted, said police spokeswoman Officer Janice Swinney.

Another Alexander’s store was in the news last year in another shoplifting case involving a prominent foreigner. Luis Homero Lajara Burgos, a retired Dominican Republic admiral and candidate for president there, won $900,000 because he had been falsely detained for shoplifting.

Lajara Burgos was stopped in 1976 when an anti-theft alarm sounded as he left an Alexander’s branch in the Bronx. He was held by guards, but eventually produced a receipt proving that he had paid for the goods he was carrying.

A clerk had failed to remove the tag that activated the alarm.

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