Five Americans imprisoned on trumped up charges in Iran have been released in exchange for 7 Iranian criminals convicted of violating the sanctions regime.
The exchange was announced on the same day that the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) certified that Iran had complied with several key steps to dismantle parts of their nuclear program, triggering a lifting of sanctions that will bring the Islamic regime more than $100 billion.
Negotiations for the nuclear deal and for the release of the hostages were not related, according to sources. They took place on separate tracks. If so, this partially explains the administration’s reluctance to sanction Iran for its missile tests.
U.S. administration officials confirmed the news Saturday following reports first published in Iranian media.
They include four who are part of a prisoner swap deal: Washington Post journalist Jason Rezaian, Marine veteran Amir Hekmati and Christian pastor Saeed Abedini. A fourth detainee identified by U.S. officials as Nosratollah Khosravi-Roodsari was also part of the deal.
A fifth man — recently detained student Matthew Trevithick — was released separately, U.S. officials said.
The announcement came the same day the United Nations’ nuclear watchdog announced Iran is in compliance with a July nuclear deal.
As a result, some international economic sanctions against Iran were lifted.
They were released in exchange for clemency for seven Iranians indicted or imprisoned in the United States for sanctions violations, the officials confirmed.
Six of the seven are dual citizens.
Iran released hostages did not free prisoners. The US did not free prisoners, it released convicted felons. Don’t call this a prisoner swap
— Emanuele Ottolenghi (@eottolenghi) January 16, 2016
Several of the released hostages have been held for years, including Washington Post reporter Jason Rezaian who was held in captivity since 2012.
In addition to Rezaian, the Americans freed Saturday included Saeed Abedini, 35, of Boise, Idaho; Amir Mirzaei Hekmati, 32, of Flint, Mich.; and Khosravi-Roodsari, U.S. and Iranian officials said.
A fifth American, identified as language student Matt Trevithick, was also released Saturday but was not part of the exchange deal. Trevithick’s parents said in a statement that he had been held for 40 days in Evin Prison. A senior U.S. official said Trevithick, 30, has already left Iran.
Abedini is a Christian pastor who had been imprisoned since July 2012 for organizing home churches. Hekmati is a former Marine who spent more than four years in prison on spying charges following his arrest in August 2011 during a visit to see his grandmother.
The detention of Khosravi-Roodsari had not been previously publicized. Iranian state television identified him as a businessman. Little else was known about him.
A senior administration official said of Trevithick, “We wanted him, obviously, to be a direct part of this, and made clear to Iranians that [his release] would be an appropriate humanitarian gesture.”
A “humanitarian gesture” from Iran? Such delusional thinking will lead to other Americans losing their freedom any time the Iranian regime wants to hold them as bargaining chips. But realistically, there was no other way to get our people back.
Of the seven Iranians who have been charged or convicted of sanctions violations, all but one have dual Iranian-American citizenship and are mostly business people guilty of conspiracy.
Iranian media lists those freed as: Nader Modanlou, Bahram Mechanic, Khosrow Afqahi, Arash Ghahreman, Touraj Faridi, Nima Golestaneh and Ali Sabounchi.
Modanlou, a naturalized U.S. citizen living in Maryland, was convicted in 2013 of conspiracy to provide illegal satellite services to Iran, laundering money and obstruction of bankruptcy proceedings. The scheme involved as much as $10 million dollars being transferred to Iran, for which Modanlou received 70 years in prison.
Mechanic, Faridi and Afqahi were charged in 2015 for their involvement in an Iranian spy ring tasked with illegally procuring sensitive technology which supported Iran’s nuclear program. The two men and their accomplices allegedly sent over $24 million worth of sensitive technology to Iran over five years.
Gahreman, a U.S.-Iranian dual citizen, was charged in August 2015 for attempting to provide Iran with illegal navigation equipment and radar technology for military defense systems. He was sentenced to six-and-a-half years in prison for his crime.
Golestaneh, an Iranian student, was charged in July 2015 with hacking into the computer networks of a Vermont-based aerodynamics company, attempting to steal software worth millions of dollars.
Ali Sabounchi, a U.S. citizen, was indicted in 2013 for attempting to illegally provide Iran with U.S.-made industrial products, some of which are used for military purposes. The goods in question were worth several millions of dollars.
In addition to the seven criminals, 14 other Iranians wanted here and in Europe for sanctions violations will no longer be pursued.
It is believed that Iran may be holding at least two other Americans, but neither the Iranian or US government has acknowledged that.
True to form, the White House refuses to acknowledge the violation of international law – not to mention human decency – in the taking of these hostages, trying them on trumped up charges, and then holding them in unspeakable conditions. For that – and many other things – Iran gets a pass.