Blame it on the fantastic selection at Duane Reade. Or the welcoming attitude of the employees at Payless shoes. Whatever tipped him over the edge, a cameraman traveling with Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad didn’t head back to Tehran at the end of his delegation’s visit to New York City for the United Nations General Assembly. Hassan Gol Khanban is reportedly seeking asylum in the United States.
Paul O’Dwyer, the lawyer retained by Khanban, has confirmed that his client has defected from Iran and is currently seeking asylum. Information about his whereabouts was kept secret, with O’Dwyer explaining Monday that Khanban was hiding out in an “undisclosed location.”
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The videographer, who’s in his 40s, applied for asylum after the 140-person Iranian delegation flew home Thursday – minus one. O’Dwyer told the New York Post that Khanban was a “trusted cameraman” for Ahmadinejad, explaining that “the regime had wanted him to do particular things, report on particular things, and he was not comfortable.” So while Khanban traveled around New York last week with his colleagues, staying at the tony Warwick Hotel in midtown Manhattan and listening to his country’s leader deliver yet another rambling anti-Western speech at the U.N., the cameraman was, it seems, secretly plotting his escape.
According to the Post, Khanban came to the U.S. with the idea to seek asylum, but no tangible plan. O’Dwyer said his client took a last-minute opportunity on Thursday to head to the drugstore – and never returned. “At the point at which he said, ‘I’m going to get pharmaceuticals,’ he knew he wasn’t going back,” O’Dwyer told the Post. It was an errand that wouldn’t have raised many eyebrows, considering that many delegates from Tehran were spotted throughout their week in the U.S. shopping at numerous American discount and wholesale chains, buying shoes at Payless and shampoo at Costco, according to the New York Daily News.
The defection seems like more than a split-second decision, however: 6,000 miles away back in Iran, Khanban’s wife and two daughters reportedly sneaked out of the country late last week. O’Dwyer told Foreign Policy that the three are currently in a third country and that he’s working on getting them into the United States as well.
While Khanban awaits an interview with U.S. authorities, his lawyer O’Dwyer has filed for asylum on his behalf, ensuring that he won’t be deported in the interim. Khanban worked for the Iranian state news agency IRIB and also traveled to New York last year with the Iranian delegation for the U.N. General Assembly, the Post reports. This year, the Big Apple must have seemed nice enough to stay.