A senior Oxford don has sworn an affidavit that Mehdi Hashemi Rafsanjani, son of the former President of Iran, hired assistance for his application to study at Oxford.
Professor Sheikholeslami, Emeritus Fellow of Wadham, swore on oath that the current Professor of Persian Studies had asked a graduate student to make an arrangement with Rafsanjani, whereby the graduate would assist with Rafsanjani’s application to Oxford, in exchange for sum of money paid to the graduate by Rafsanjani.
Sheikholeslami plans to return his Oxford MA degree in protest at the University’s handling of the Rafsanjani case, which has already sparked an urgent review into the graduate admission process.
The complaints of senior academics in December 2010 that University rules had been broken to admit Rafsanjani to the Oriental Faculty prompted an internal investigation. Though the investigation was formally closed in April, academics are now calling for the case to be re-opened, in light of Prof Sheikholeslami’s new evidence.
Sheikholeslami swore an oath that, in his belief, Rafsanjani’s admission was “highly discriminatory” and “smacking of favouritism”.Sheikholeslami was invited to appear before the North enquiry, where he said that Rafsanjani’s academic background had “no relevance” to his proposed field of study at the Oriental Faculty and that in his opinion “[Rafsanjani] was not qualified to be admitted to Oxford.”
Sheikholselami told the North enquiry that Rafsanjani’s academic referees were “of no value” as they were “without exception [written by] underlings working for his father’s institute” who bore “no relation to the candidate’s academic background.”
Sheikhoeslami informed the enquiry that he had received credible information that Rafsanjani hired the services of an Oxford graduate student to prepare his application.
Further to the evidence he gave to the North enquiry, Sheikholeslami has sworn on affidavit that Professor Herzig, the current Professor of Persian Studies, “ordered” this student to help prepare Rafsanjani’s application and doctoral thesis proposal. Sheikholeslami tells how “on 26th March 2011, at 3pm, I was visited by [the student in question].”
Sheikholeslami swore on oath that during this visit, the graduate student said he was asked by Herzig to assist Rafsanjani, and that he had met Rafsanjani at the Randolph Hotel to discuss the work he would do and the money he would be paid. The work involved downloading the relevant application form and helping to fill in the form, as well as “prepar[ing] the [thesis] proposal” for Rafsanjani.
This was all to be done in English, which Prof Sheikholeslami noted was “of crucial importance” as Sheikholeslami “knew that [Rafsanjani] did not have the minimum requisite level of English mandated at Oxford”.
The graduate student was contacted by Cherwell, but was not available for comment.
Kaveh Moussavi, an Associate Research Fellow at the Centre for Socio-Legal Studies in Oxford, who filed the original allegations against Rafsanjani, said, “I have maintained all along that Rafsanjani paid to get into Oxford and that the internal rules [were] subverted by University insiders.” Moussavi wrote to the Vice-Chancellor on Sunday, submitting new evidence, and asking him to reopen the investigation.
Moussavi claims that the investigation was flawed, as “North found no evidence of payments because he did not have the power to look at bank statements. Nor did he know that Edmund Herzig had instructed [the graduate student] to help Rafsanjani. I have given the Vice-Chancellor the evidence.”
Sheikholeslami said, “If the University plans to continue its secrecy, we have no alternative but to open the investigation. It will save the University’s reputation without stating that the results of the previous one have been buried.”
Dr Homa Katouzian, who had assessed Rafsanjani’s application for study at Oxford, maintains that “I did not know that Mr Hashemi was Mr Rafsanjani’s son when I assessed his application, but it would not have made an iota of difference to my academic judgment even if I had known this.We cannot doubt the integrity of our applicants without obvious cause, and so, assuming that the allegation is true, there was no way in which this could have been known to me at the time.”
Rafsanjani said to Cherwell, “These baseless allegations were brought against me before Christmas and investigated very thoroughly by Sir Peter North and the outcome was that he found not [sic] basis for these allegations. I received my admission from Oxford through a process of 7-9 months when my proposal was received, examined and analysed by more than one Professor.”
Herzig told Cherwell, “This matter, including my role in it, was the subject of a University investigation earlier this year. I have no comment to make beyond what is in the statements issued by the University Press Office.”
A spokesperson from the University Press Office reiterated that the investigation “found no basis for the University to institute formal proceedings against [Rafsanjani]” and that “those involved have categorically denied any impropriety.”