FAM­ILY OF MAN HELD BY IRAN SAYS UK ARMS DEBT BE­HIND HIS PRISON PLIGHT

▶ Sanc­tions re­port­edly hin­der­ing ef­forts by Bri­tain to re­pay £380m linked to a deal it re­neged on af­ter 1979 rev­o­lu­tion

The National - News - - NEWS - PAUL PEACHEY

The fam­ily of an Ira­nian-Bri­tish na­tional blamed a dis­pute over a 40-year-old ar­ma­ments debt be­tween the ri­val gov­ern­ments for block­ing his re­lease from jail.

Anoosheh Ashoori, 65, a re­tired en­gi­neer and fa­ther of two, was ar­rested in 2017 dur­ing a visit to his home­land to see his mother. He was jailed for 12 years af­ter the Ira­nian au­thor­i­ties ac­cused him of spy­ing for Mos­sad.

His son, Aryan, said the fam­ily be­lieved that key to his re­lease was the UK pay­ing off a £380 mil­lion (Dh1.8 bil­lion) debt af­ter it re­neged on a deal to sup­ply tanks to the for­mer shah af­ter the 1979 rev­o­lu­tion.

The Ira­nian ju­di­ciary has re­peat­edly linked the con­tin­ued de­ten­tion of an­other Bri­tish-Ira­nian in­mate, Nazanin Zaghari-Rat­cliffe, with the un­paid debt, her hus­band said.

About £500m is be­ing held by a Bri­tish court but it has been tied up dur­ing years of le­gal dis­putes and prob­lems of hand­ing over cash to Iran while un­der in­ter­na­tional sanc­tions.

“Our best hope is not the Ira­nian ju­di­cial sys­tem, it’s the debts that the UK has to pay Iran,” said Mr Ashoori, 30, who is based in the UK. “For his spe­cific case, we think this is the trans­ac­tion that is re­quired.

“Nei­ther side wants to ad­mit that these two things are re­lated. That will break all po­lit­i­cal con­ven­tions.”

The fam­ily says that sug­ges­tions he was spy­ing for Is­rael are laugh­able.

He has been un­able to se­cure proper le­gal rep­re­sen­ta­tion and rel­a­tives have never seen the full de­tails of the charges against him, echo­ing the complaints of other fam­i­lies.

He is one of at least six peo­ple with Bri­tish con­nec­tions or na­tion­al­ity that are be­ing held in Iran on what many of them say are fab­ri­cated grounds.

Lawyers for Ms Zaghari-Rat­cliffe’s hus­band, Richard, said that the ar­rests or charges of other UK-linked peo­ple can be traced back to de­vel­op­ments in the debt case, ac­cord­ing to the let­ter seen by The Guardian.

They claimed that the gov­ern­ment-owned agency that owes the debt has put “le­gal road­blocks” in the way to limit the pay­ment to Iran. Mr Rat­cliffe’s lawyers said the debt could be paid through hu­man­i­tar­ian aid or by seek­ing a sanc­tions waiver. Lawyers for Iran told The Na­tional they had ap­plied for a waiver to a branch of the UK fi­nance min­istry but are wait­ing for a re­sponse.

Gov­ern­ment of­fi­cials are un­der­stood to be look­ing at other ways to re­pay the debt but say their hands are tied by in­ter­na­tional sanc­tions.

Mr Ashoori mean­while re­mains held at Evin Prison out­side Tehran where he is con­fined to a four-room base­ment that he shares with about 70 oth­ers, ac­cord­ing to his fam­ily.

His only sight of the sky is from a small yard with an open sewer that is sur­rounded by four walls, he told them dur­ing daily tele­phone calls.

Iran does not recog­nise dual cit­i­zen­ship and does not al­low con­sular vis­its.

“It’s all in the hands of peo­ple big­ger than us and there’s a mas­sive sense of hope­less­ness” said Aryan Ashoori.

He said he had no con­fi­dence in the Prime Min­is­ter Boris John­son to re­solve the cri­sis.

Mr Ashoori’s sen­tence was an­nounced at the same time as a ten-year jail term was con­firmed for Bri­tish Coun­cil worker Aras Amiri.

Iran said on Tues­day that any co-op­er­a­tion with the Bri­tish Coun­cil, a cul­ture and ed­u­ca­tion out­reach body, was banned and would re­sult in prose­cu­tion.

The an­nounce­ment came a day af­ter the United States re­vealed fresh sanc­tions against se­nior regime fig­ures.

It also of­fered a re­ward of $20m (Dh73.4m) for in­for­ma­tion to se­cure the re­lease and re­turn of Robert Levin­son, the long­est-held US hostage, last seen in Iran in 2007.

Anoosheh Ashoori, right, was ac­cused of be­ing a Mos­sad spy

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