The 1986 death in London of an Iranian arms merchant-turned-government informant, a death previously linked to a rare sudden onset of leukemia, is under investigation by the U.S. Customs Service at the request of federal prosecutors in New York, The Times has learned.
"We've asked the Customs Service to review all the facts to see if there was foul play," Rudolph W. Giuliani, U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York, said in an interview.
At the time of his death last summer, Cyrus Hashemi, 42, was the key government witness in the prosecution of an alleged $2-billion arms smuggling conspiracy that involved 17 individuals and companies, including a retired Israeli general, accused of planning to ship missiles and spare parts to Iran.
Hashemi also was under indictment for allegedly shipping arms to Iran during the 1980 American hostage crisis.
Speculation on Foul Play
In recent months, speculation that Hashemi's death may somehow have been connected to actions by international intelligence agents has been raised by members of his family, by some European news accounts and by defendants in the arms conspiracy case still pending trial in New York.
Before becoming a government informant in the arms conspiracy investigation, Hashemi had lost a bid to share White House-sanctioned Iranian arms deals with Saudi Arabian arms merchant Adnan Khashoggi. A Hashemi-Khashoggi partnership collapsed in August, 1985, the same time Khashoggi and a rival Iranian businessman, Manucher Ghorbanifar, helped to broker the first U.S.-approved sales of anti-tank missiles to Iran.
Secretly recorded Customs Service tapes revealed that Hashemi tried unsuccessfully to snare Khashoggi in the "sting" operation by trying to persuade him to deal with undercover U.S. customs agents.