CANADA

A champagne homecoming

SHERRI AIKENHEAD February 23 1987
CANADA

A champagne homecoming

SHERRI AIKENHEAD February 23 1987

A champagne homecoming

His eyes were bloodshot, and he weighed 15 lb. less than he did before his ordeal began. But Philip Engs, the Canadian engineer released last week after being held in Iran on charges of espionage, insisted that he was treated well during his 69 days in captivity. “The meals were boring but adequate,” he said after arriving at Toronto’s Pearson International Airport. “I had sunlight.” Without any bitterness, Engs said he felt no ill feelings toward his captors. And although he was interrogated for 10 days, he spent most of his time in a comfortable holding cell in Tehran’s Evin prison, solving mathematical and physics puzzles. Joked Engs, 29: “In a way I thought that I was even going to miss the ‘caviar.’ ”

In Ottawa, Iranian embassy officials continued to maintain Tehran had evidence that Engs was guilty of spying. His release, they said, was simply a gesture of goodwill toward Canada. Manager of Iranian operations for Schlumberger Ltd., a multinational oil service company, Engs was first questioned by Iranian authorities last October after security guards discovered rolls of exposed film in his travelling bag. The Iranians said they were pictures of sensitive port areas, off limits to photographers.

After the film was discovered, Engs returned to Canada on vacation. But when he flew back to Tehran on Dec. 2 he was arrested and charged with espionage. It took more than two months and the efforts of both External Affairs officials in Ottawa and Danish diplomats in Tehran—who have handled Canadian affairs in Iran since Canada closed its embassy there in 1980—before Engs was freed. But Engs said he knew on Jan. 7—when his interrogator told him he believed he was innocent—that he would be released. Back in Canada, Engs refused to answer questions about the photographs he had taken. But he emphatically rejected Iran’s charges. “I am not a spy,” he said. “I hope you realize that.”

Later, Engs’s family in St. Catharines, Ont., praised the diplomats who secured his release and celebrated his homecoming with several bottles of champagne. Engs himself, already planning a vacation, would not reveal the site of his next job posting. But asked whether he would return to Iran, he replied, “No, would you?”

SHERRI AIKENHEAD