The UK’s second-most senior diplomat in Tehran is reportedly among three foreigners who have been arrested by Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) for alleged espionage activities.
Giles Whitaker, deputy chief at the UK embassy in Tehran, stands accused of taking soil samples in a restricted area, according to a report on Wednesday by Iranian state television.
Video footage released by the IRGC purports to show the veteran envoy, who was accompanied by family members, gathering soil samples in Iran’s central desert, where missile exercises were being conducted.
Whitaker reportedly apologized for the infraction and was expelled from the area. The media report didn’t specify whether he and the other suspects are still under arrest.
The other detained men were identified as the husband of Austria’s cultural attaché in Iran and Maciej Walczak, a Polish university professor who was visiting the country under a scientific exchange program.
The IRGC’s footage purported to show Walczak and three colleagues collecting soil samples in a restricted area of Kerman province, where another missile test was being conducted.
The Polish professor is reportedly from Nicolaus Copernicus University, which the Iranian broadcaster said is “associated with the Zionist regime.”
The allegations come amid stalled talks to revive the 2015 Iran nuclear deal, which former US President Donald Trump canceled in 2018. Under the so-called Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) – signed by Iran, the US, Russia, China, the UK, France and Germany – Tehran agreed to limitations preventing nuclear weapons development in exchange for sanctions relief.
Wednesday’s Iranian media report suggested that the alleged spies were trying to help build a new case on “military aspects of Iran’s file in the International Atomic Energy Agency.”
Whitaker has been deputy head of mission at the British embassy in Tehran since November 2018. His UK government career has spanned more than three decades and has included stints at embassies in Moscow, Berlin and Islamabad, as well as at NATO headquarters in Brussels.
The IRGC has arrested dozens of foreigners on espionage charges in recent years. Rob Macaire, then UK ambassador to Iran, was apprehended in January 2020 for allegedly inciting protests over the Iranian military’s accidental downing of a Ukrainian passenger jet.