Canada probes agent's romance with spy target

MONTREAL (AFP) - Canada is investigating one of its anti-terrorism agents for having a year-long affair with her target, an alleged Iranian spy, an official said Friday.

The Montreal French-language daily La Presse said a seemingly innocent text sent from a cell phone in the Ottawa region triggered the probe.

"Hey darling, I have a little something special I want to give you for Christmas. ;) I hope that you have a great Christmas. Let's talk soon, okay? I love you and I miss you. xxo," it reportedly said.

The Passport Canada employee assigned to an Integrated National Security Enforcement Team was tasked with following the comings and goings of the suspect, an Iranian-born Canadian living in Montreal.

According to La Presse, she herself became the target of an internal investigation after her affair was revealed recently. She was also suspended.

Officials said they want to ensure that no sensitive information was leaked.

"Our government takes such allegations very seriously," Alexis Pavlich, spokeswoman for Immigration Minister Chris Alexander, told AFP. "As soon as we became aware of the allegations, Minister Alexander asked officials to take swift and firm action to ensure the security and integrity of the program was not compromised in any way."

The Canadian counter-terrorism security teams (INSET) were formed in 2002 in response to the September 11, 2001 terror attacks in the United States.

The man in INSET's crosshairs is involved in real estate development in Venezuela, where he is believed to have come into contact with Iranian nationals working with Caracas on joint projects.

Canada is a fervent critic of both Iran and Venezuela, and Canadian federal police have been scrutinizing their partnerships in recent years.

The Royal Canadian Mounted Police, according to La Presse, suspect the Montreal businessman, identified as Arian Azarbar, is spying for Iran.

But Mr Azarbar rejected the allegations. "I'm just a businessman," he told La Presse. "What could I possibly have of interest to give to the Iranian government?"

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