Advertisement

Morad Tahbaz: British citizen freed by Iran in prisoner swap

Morad Tahbaz, who were released during a prisoner swap deal between U.S. and Iran, at Doha International Airport,  (REUTERS)
Morad Tahbaz, who were released during a prisoner swap deal between U.S. and Iran, at Doha International Airport, (REUTERS)

A British-born environmentalist who was jailed in Iran has been freed as part of a prisoner exchange brokered between the US and Tehran.

Morad Tahbaz, 67, a British-American conservationist of Iranian descent was released on Monday alongside four Americans under a deal struck by the Biden administration to issue a $6bn (£4.8bn) waiver for international banks to issue frozen Iranian money without incurring sanctions.

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak was "extremely pleased" that Mr Tahbaz's "terrible ordeal is finally over", Downing Street said. No 10 said the UK did not play a role in the negotiations.

Mr Tahbaz, a prominent conservationist and board member of the Persian Wildlife Heritage Foundation was arrested during a crackdown on environmental activists in January 2018.

He was sentenced to 10 years in prison with his colleagues on vague charges of spying for the US and undermining Iran’s security.

His wife was also placed under a travel ban by the Iranian authorities.She is understood to have also left Iran with Mr Tahbaz.

Roxanne Tahbaz campaigned for the release of her father, Morad Tahbaz, from Iran (Stefan Rousseau/PA) (PA Archive)
Roxanne Tahbaz campaigned for the release of her father, Morad Tahbaz, from Iran (Stefan Rousseau/PA) (PA Archive)

Mr Tahbaz was freed from prison on furlough on the day in March last year that Ms Zaghari-Ratcliffe and British-Iranian dual national Anoosheh Ashoori were freed and allowed to return to the UK, but he was returned to custody after just two days.

A flight carrying the five prisoners flew out of Tehran on Monday and into Doha, Qatar.

The five prisoners, who include US nationals Siamak Namazi and Emad Sharghi, had all been held on widely-criticised spying charges at Tehran’s infamous Evin prison, where Ms Zaghari-Ratcliffe was also held.

Under the deal, five unnamed Iranian citizens held in the US will also be released.

The US waiver means that European, Middle Eastern and Asian banks will not run afoul of US sanctions in converting the money frozen in South Korea and transferring it to Qatar’s central bank, where it will be held for Iran to use for the purchase of humanitarian goods.

Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Nasser Kanaani said two of the Iranian prisoners will stay in the US.

The deal has opened Joe Biden to fresh criticism from Republicans and others who say that the administration is helping boost the Iranian economy at a time when Iran poses a growing threat to American troops and Mideast allies. Tensions between the West and Iran remain high over Tehran’s nuclear ambitions.

The five prisoners Iran wanted released were mostly held over allegedly trying to export banned material to Iran, such as dual use electronics that can be used by a military.

US citizens Siamak Namazi (C-back), Emad Sharqi (bottom-L) and Morad Tahbaz (bottom-R) disembark from the flight (AFP via Getty Images)
US citizens Siamak Namazi (C-back), Emad Sharqi (bottom-L) and Morad Tahbaz (bottom-R) disembark from the flight (AFP via Getty Images)

The cash represents money South Korea owed Iran but had not yet paid for oil purchased before the US imposed sanctions on such transactions in 2019.

Iran and the U.S. have a history of prisoner swaps, with the most recent major exchange happening in 2016, when Iran came to a deal with world powers to restrict its nuclear program in return for an easing of sanctions.

Mr Sunak's official spokesman said: "The Prime Minister is extremely pleased that Morad Tahbaz's terrible ordeal is finally over and that he will be reunited with his loved ones.

"By seeking to use foreign nationals as bargaining chips, the regime's leaders are fatally undermining Iran's credibility on the world stage. They must stop using foreign nationals for political bargaining."