History's missing pages: Iranian academic sliced out sections of priceless collection

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To the untrained eye the damage is barely visible. Yet within the handbound pages of books charting how Europeans travelled to Mesopotamia, Persia and the Mogul empire from the 16th century onwards, the damage caused by one Iranian academic to a priceless British Library collection is irreversible.

Leading scholars at the library are at a loss to explain why Farhad Hakimzadeh, a Harvard-educated businessman, publisher and intellectual, took a scalpel to the leaves of 150 books that have been in the nation's collection for centuries. The monetary damage he caused over seven years is in the region of £400,000 but Dr Kristian Jensen, head of the British and early printed collections at the library, said no price could be placed upon the books and maps that he had defaced and stolen.

"These are historic objects which have been damaged forever," said Jensen. "You cannot undo what he has done and it has compromised a piece of historical evidence which charts the early engagement of Europeans with what we now know as the Middle East and China.

"It makes me extremely angry. This is someone who is extremely rich who has damaged and destroyed something that belongs to everybody."

Hakimzadeh, 60, faces a jail sentence today when he appears at Wood Green magistrates court in London. The Iranian-born academic fled his country after the fall of the Shah and holds a US passport. He has pleaded guilty to 14 specimen charges of stealing maps, pages and illustrations from 10 books at the British Library and four from the Bodleian Library in Oxford dating back to 1998.

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