▶ Rel­a­tives of for­mer FBI agent Bob Levin­son are claim­ing dam­ages from Tehran 12 years af­ter his dis­ap­pear­ance

The National - News - - NEWS - PAUL PEACHEY

The fam­ily of the long­est-serv­ing US pris­oner in Iran will this week ac­cuse the regime of un­law­ful hostage-tak­ing and tor­ture.

Twenty-one rel­a­tives of Bob Levin­son, a pri­vate in­ves­ti­ga­tor, will fill a court­room in Wash­ing­ton to re­count how his dis­ap­pear­ance in March 2007 dev­as­tated their lives.

The for­mer FBI agent went miss­ing on Kish Is­land, off the south­ern Ira­nian coast, where he was due to meet a wit­ness for an in­ves­ti­ga­tion. He was later de­scribed by Ira­nian state me­dia as be­ing in the hands of se­cu­rity forces, ac­cord­ing to court doc­u­ments. The fam­ily is seek­ing dam­ages against the regime, payable from a fund com­pris­ing seized as­sets and fines levied against banks for vi­o­lat­ing Ira­nian sanctions – known as “bad guy money”.

The le­gal claim, first lodged in 2017, is sim­i­lar to one by jour­nal­ist and for­mer de­tainee Ja­son Reza­ian. A judge last month said he was en­ti­tled to re­ceive $180 mil­lion (Dh661.1m) for his 544 days held in an Ira­nian jail. He is likely to re­ceive a small pro­por­tion of the award.

Le­gal ex­perts said the Levin­son claim was dif­fer­ent to oth­ers’ be­cause of the un­cer­tainty sur­round­ing the in­ves­ti­ga­tor’s fate. Af­ter his dis­ap­pear­ance, the fam­ily re­ceived a se­ries of emails from an uniden­ti­fied ter­ror­ist group de­mand­ing changes to US po­lice and threat­en­ing his life. The fam­ily was sent pho­tos in 2011 show­ing him bound by chains and wear­ing an or­ange jump­suit.

The FBI con­cluded the mes­sages were part of an at­tempt to cre­ate a false trail to en­sure Iran was not held re­spon­si­ble for what might hap­pen to him, ac­cord­ing to the fam­ily’s claim.

“What we don’t know is how many days he’s been locked up and tor­tured,” said Stu­art New­berger,

a se­nior part­ner at US law firm Crow­ell and Mor­ing who has ex­ten­sive ex­pe­ri­ence work­ing on sim­i­lar cases for more than two decades.

“It’s a sit­u­a­tion that’s ob­vi­ously dif­fi­cult for his fam­ily. If he is alive, when is he go­ing to get out? We don’t know if this is a wrong­ful death or a hostage case. That’s the unique part and what makes this so dif­fi­cult for the court.”

Eight fam­ily mem­bers will give ev­i­dence be­fore the court to­mor­row and Thurs­day, in­clud­ing Mr Levin­son’s wife Chris­tine.

“My chil­dren and I have had to live for 12 years with the knowl­edge that their fa­ther was be­ing held by a hos­tile regime who rou­tinely tor­tures its pris­on­ers,” said Mrs Levin­son in Jan­uary. “The re­sult­ing grief and an­guish have been dif­fi­cult for all of us.”

As the US does not have diplo­matic re­la­tions with Iran, the pa­pers in the case were served via the Swiss em­bassy in Tehran. Iran has not re­sponded to the claim, in line with pre­vi­ous cases. But it did ac­knowl­edge for the first time last month that it had an open case be­fore its courts over Mr Levin­son’s dis­ap­pear­ance. Iran told the United Na­tions that the case was “on­go­ing”, with­out elab­o­rat­ing.

US courts have made awards of $46 bil­lion to vic­tims of Ira­nian ter­ror­ism in­clud­ing the fam­i­lies of 241 US sol­diers killed in the 1983 bomb­ing of a US marine bar­racks in Beirut.

Amer­i­can courts in 2016 cleared the way for vic­tims of state-spon­sored ter­ror­ism to col­lect dam­ages from seized Ira­nian as­sets. The fund paid out $1.1bn to vic­tims of state-spon­sored ter­ror­ism in 2017, ac­cord­ing to State Depart­ment doc­u­ments.

Mean­while, one of Mr Levin­son’s daugh­ters will join the hus­band of aid worker Nazanin Zaghari-Rat­cliffe and for­mer pris­oner Nizar Zakka to high­light the plight of those that re­main in Ira­nian jails at an event to­day or­gan­ised by US sen­a­tors.

Ex­perts said the claim was dif­fer­ent from oth­ers be­cause of the un­cer­tainty sur­round­ing Levin­son’s fate

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