Iranian-Born Scholar Mutilated Rare Manuscripts at British Library and U. of Oxford

November 21, 2008

An Iranian-born scholar faces jail time for vandalizing scores of antique manuscripts relating to European involvement with the Middle East in the collections of the British Library and the University of Oxford’s Bodleian Library.

Farhad Hakimzadeh, whom The Guardian, a British newspaper, describes as a Harvard-educated academic who fled Iran after the fall of the shah, pleaded guilty to 10 criminal counts of theft from the British Library’s collection and four counts related to material in the Bodleian. “The items he mutilated are mainly 16th-, 17th-, and 18th-century items, with a lesser number of 19th- and a few 20th-century items,” the British Library said in a written statement. Mr. Hakimzadeh’s nearly decade-long vandalism spree was carried out with such surgical skill that the damage he had caused, to at least 150 of the 842 works he checked out, was “initially difficult to detect,” the library said.

A wealthy London-based businessman and author, Mr. Hakimzadeh founded and until recently was director of the Iran Heritage Foundation, described on its Web site as a charity “with the mission to increase awareness about, promote, and preserve the history, languages, and cultures of Iran.” A message on the site says Mr. Hakimzadeh’s case is a “personal matter,” adding that he stepped down from the foundation last year and no longer is connected to it.

Mr. Hakimzadeh was due to be sentenced today on the criminal charges, but a British Library spokesman said that sentencing had been postponed to a later date. The library is pursuing civil charges against Mr. Hakimzadeh for restitution. “The monetary damage he caused over seven years is in the region of £400,000,” or about $600,000, according to The Guardian.

In its statement on the case, Oxford did not indicate whether it would also seek restitution. “We are pleased the criminal case, on which we cooperated closely with the police, has been brought to a close,” the university said. —Aisha Labi