FAMILY OF MAN MISSING IN IRAN TO TELL COURT OF THEIR PAIN
▶ Relatives of former FBI agent Bob Levinson are claiming damages from Tehran 12 years after his disappearance
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