Unlike the abstemious father of the Iran’s Islamic revolution, Ruhollah Khomeini, Iran’s supreme leader, Ali Khamenei, decided recently that he deserved a perk his fellow Muslim leaders have long enjoyed – a private executive jet.
Acquiring one turned out to be a tall order. A Western embargo prevents the sale to Iran of any aircraft that can be used for military purposes or reconnaissance.
DEBKA-Net-Weekly‘s sources soon discovered the ruler’s agents shopping around in high Muslim society for a spare aircraft on sale. Negotiations with the Sultan of Brunei, whose personal jet, an Airbus A-310-300, is one of the most sumptuous in the world, broke down because the parsimonious Iranian made too low an offer – $80 million.
They turned next to the Beirut-based Syrian businessman, Faud a-Zayat, and asked him to front the purchase of a small jet. He was told to keep the transaction under his hat for fear of impairing the Iranian spiritual ruler’s pur et dur image.
The Iranians knew a-Zayat from a recent successful multi-million dollar deal; he was middleman in the sale of large quantities of Iranian drinking water to Kuwait. They also believed they could trust him to keep his mouth shut about the end-recipient of an executive jet he claimed he could get hold of for a cool $100.
Unfortunately for the Islamic Republic and the usually savvy business sense of its officials, Zayat took wing in early May and disappeared with the money.
A furious Khamenei thereupon assigned an elite Iranian security unit to find the absconder and bring him to Tehran. According to DEBKA-Net-Weekly’s intelligence sources, they found Zayat in the first week of June hiding in a prepared bolt hole in northern Lebanon. The Iranian special operatives burst into the house, hustled him aboard a plane waiting for them on a landing strip used by Lebanese drug smugglers near the northern city of Tripoli and flew him to Cyprus. On the Mediterranean island, the Syrian entrepreneur – disguised as a patient – was put on a flight to Tehran.
Zayat’s interrogators didn’t lay a glove on him. Their message was as simple as it was menacing: If you want to see your family again, show us the money – all $100 million of it – or else spend the rest of your life at one of our hard-labor prison camps in one of our mines.
Early this week, Zayat finally parted with the information. When the money reached Tehran, the Syrian was put on a plane to Damascus and told never to set foot in Iran again.
Needless to say, Zayat also found he wouldn’t see a penny of the commission he earned from the Iran-Kuwait water deal. Khamenei may have got his money back, but is as far as ever from the shiny executive jet he craves.