Cherwell can exclusively reveal that the University is currently reviewing their graduate admission process with “increased urgency”.
This follows an investigation into the legitimacy of the admittance of Mehdi Hashemi Rafsanjani, son of the former president of Iran. Rafsanjani began a five-year DPhil course at the Faculty of Oriental Studies in October 2010.
Two months later, a senior academic raised doubts over the legitimacy of Rafsanjani’s application to study at Oxford, as well as the authenticity of his doctoral thesis proposal. Kaveh Moussavi, an Associate Research Fellow at the Centre for Socio-Legal Studies, who filed the allegations, claimed that Rafsanjani did not live within a 24 mile radius of Carfax as specified by the University, and that he had failed to meet the level of English recommended for doctoral study at Oxford. Moussavi also alleged that Rafsanjani had been written his doctoral thesis proposal with the help of others.
The University initially claimed that the investigation into the admission of Rafsanjani had not triggered any tightening of the review of the graduate admissions process. However the Press Office disclosed to Cherwell on Thursday evening that a private letter had in fact been sent from the Vice Chancellor to Moussavi.
The letter explained to Moussavi that the graduate admissions process was now being reviewed with “increased urgency”, as a result of the investigation. After Cherwell learned about the existence of this letter, the University revised its earlier statement, and confirmed, “We are working with increased urgency to reconsider certain parts of the graduate admission process as a result of matters raised in the report that followed from the investigation”.
Aside from the allegations levelled against Rafsanjani about the legitimacy of his acceptance according to the University’s own criteria, Cherwell has also discovered that Rafsanjani was implicated in a case heard by the Canadian Supreme Court in February 2002, which involved allegations of torture, kidnap and bribery.
A paper published by the European Journal of International Law in 2008, titled “Immunity from Torture: Lessons from Bouzari v. Iran”, describes how Houshang Bouzari, an Iranian businessman, was tortured by anonymous agents of the Iranian government.
The paper relays how prior to his arrest, Bouzari was approached by Rafsanjani, who demanded a bribe of $50 million, in exchange for facilitating a lucrative contract with the National Iranian Oil Company. Bouzari refused to pay the bribe.
The paper describes how on 1st June 1993, “three plain clothes police ofï¬cers arrested Bouzari in Tehran and took him to Section 209 of Even Prison. For the next eight months, Bouzari was brutally tortured”.
However, no charges were pressed in connection with the torture and kidnap, as the Supreme Court ruled that Canadian courts had no jurisdiction to rule on the liability of a foreign state, as it would be contrary to international law and Canada’s own rules on private international law.
The Court of Appeal found in December 2003 that “[Bouzari’s] action is barred by the State Immunity Act.” Such was the concern caused by this ruling that in May 2005, the UN Committee Against Torture, recommended that Canada should “review its position…to ensure the provision of compensation through its civil jurisdiction to all victims of torture”.
Pascal Jerome, outgoing President of Oxford University Amnesty International, said, “Though no-one should be damned without trial, the weight of evidence against this man calls for more transparency on Oxford’s part.”A spokesperson from the Press Office said that personal background checks are not a formal part of the admittance requirements as “logistically it would be very hard to implement”.
The University said that all details of the investigation into Rafsanjani remain strictly “confidential”. Moussavi, who initially bought the case of Rafsanjani to the University’s attention, said, of the investigation “the matter is confidential but it is by no means over.”