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Iran Cites Argentine Diplomat's 'Cultural Plunder'

TEHRAN (Reuters) -- Iran accused an Argentine diplomat of "cultural plunder" on October 5, saying he had been caught trying to smuggle out of the country six tons of antiquities including rare coins, banknotes, books, and engravings.

The Foreign Ministry described an "undignified" attempt by the diplomat, named by state television as former counselor Sebastian Zavala, to bring the items out of the country among his personal effects. The goods were seized and impounded by customs. The diplomat had left Iran several months ago.

Argentine embassy officials were not available for comment.

"The Argentine diplomat's act amounts to national cultural plunder," the "Mardomsalari" newspaper quoted customs official Mohammad Behnoud Ahani as saying.

Foreign Ministry spokesman Hassan Qashqavi told a weekly news conference: "Unfortunately, we cannot officially state the details of this undignified diplomatic act now."

The seized collection, described by the customs official as a "highly valuable treasure," included rare coins, banknotes, stamps, books, dishware, and engravings, the newspaper reported.

Tehran and Buenos Aires have had strained relations since Argentina accused Iran of masterminding a deadly bombing at Buenos Aires Jewish center in 1994. Iran denies this.

In August, Argentina condemned as "an affront to the victims of the attack" the nomination of Ahmad Vahidi, a senior Revolutionary Guards official accused of being involved in the issue, as the country's defence minister.