£400 million debt to Iran has no links to imprisoned aid worker, UK officials claim

Britain’s Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson with Richard Ratcliffe, the husband of British-Iranian woman Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe who is jailed in Iran, at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office in London on Wednesday. (AFP)
Updated 16 November 2017
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£400 million debt to Iran has no links to imprisoned aid worker, UK officials claim

LONDON: British and Iranian government officials have refuted reports that the repayment of more than £400 million ($527.4 million) to Iran is connected to negotiations to free jailed Iranian-British aid worker Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe.
Zaghari-Ratcliffe, a project manager at the Thomson Reuters Foundation, has been imprisoned since April 2016, and is serving a five-year jail sentence after being accused of spying and plotting to overthrow the Iranian establishment, charges she denies.
The Daily Telegraph newspaper reported on Wednesday that Britain was preparing to transfer the money in a gesture of goodwill to Iran as it works to secure her release.
A government spokesperson said: “This is a longstanding case and relates to contracts signed over 40 years ago with the pre-revolution Iranian regime
“Funding to settle the debt was paid to the High Court by the Treasury and IMS in 2002. Iran’s Ministry of Defense remains subject to EU sanctions.
“It is wrong to link a completely separate debt issue with any other aspect of our bilateral relationship with Iran.”
An Iranian official acknowledged on Thursday that Tehran and Britain are discussing the possible release of the money, which was paid by the previous regime of the shah of Iran for Chieftain tanks, AP reported.
The contract was canceled after the Iranian revolution in 1979, but the money was never returned.
Following a ruling in Iran’s favor by the The Hague’s Permanent Court of Arbitration in 2001, Britain promised to repay the money but was prevented by sanctions on Iran, which have since been eased following the nuclear deal in 2016.
Zaghari-Ratcliffe’s husband, Richard Ratcliffe, has suggested that his wife’s detention is being used as collateral to persuade Britain to pay up.
“It is important that the UK honors its international legal obligations so that Iran can honor its legal obligations.”
“They are separate things but it is good for the atmosphere if they are all solved.”
However, commentators have pointed to recent exchanges between the US and Iran that follow a similar pattern.
In 2016, the US delivered $400 million to Iran on the same day as a prisoner exchange that freed Washington Post journalist Jason Rezaian and three other Iranian-Americans.
“Zaghari-Ratcliffe’s imprisonment was just another attempt by IRGC (Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps) officials to extort money from the West,” said Ahmad Majidyar, director of the IranObserved Project at the Middle East Institute.
“The British government is trying its utmost to de-link the two issues, but it is hard to believe that the payment is not directly related to Zaghari-Ratcliffe’s imprisonment.
“From the very outset, it was clear that IRGC authorities were using the British-Iranian charity worker as a bargaining chip to secure the decades-old debt from the British government. Charges filed against her were consistently vague and spurious.”
On Monday, UK Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson vowed to do “everything we can to get her out of Iran,” and retracted comments made last week suggesting that Zaghari-Ratcliffe had been “training journalists” in the country.
Her family has repeatedly said she was there on holiday with her daughter visiting relatives.
Johnson is due to visit Tehran in the coming weeks to discuss the strengthening of Anglo-Iranian relations, but the issue of Zaghari-Ratcliffe is expected to dominate proceedings.
According to her family, the error has been used by Iranian authorities as proof that Zaghari-Ratcliffe posed a threat to the Iranian regime and could lead to her sentence being significantly increased.
Speaking in the House of Commons, Johnson apologized for the “distress and anguish” his comments caused. “Of course I retract any suggestion that she was there in a professional capacity,” he said.
Ratcliffe has highlighted his wife’s worsening health, and called for the British government to grant her diplomatic protection.
Iran, which does not acknowledge Zaghari-Ratcliffe’s dual nationality and sees her as solely Iranian, has indicated that this move will be ineffectual.
An article in the IRNA state news agency said: “As Zaghari has dual British-Iranian citizenship and Iran doesn’t recognize her British citizenship, the principle is fundamentally impractical.”
Chris Doyle, director of the Council for Arab-British Understanding, said it was “unlikely” her release will be facilitated without the Iranians getting something in return.
“No doubt the British government is looking at a raft of options, including a possible payment and granting diplomatic protection to Zaghari-Ratcliffe, neither of which is ideal,” he told Arab News.
“Conferring diplomatic protection on her would be dubious, and it would also set a very dangerous precedent where other states could try to do the same thing, so I think that would be an unlikely option.
“Paying off the debt also has the danger of looking as though it is rewarding Iran for illegitimate actions.”
Majidyar said: “If Iran gets what it wants, it will release her sooner or later. But while the freedom of the British mother will be a cause for celebration, paying ransom also leaves behind a risky precedent as it encourages the IRGC to continue taking more Western hostages for concessions or ransom.”


Syrian businessman linked to Assad arrested in Kuwait

Mazen Al-Tarazi has been living in Kuwait for a long while. (AFP/File)
Updated 19 March 2019
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Syrian businessman linked to Assad arrested in Kuwait

  • The businessman has a publishing and advertising company in Kuwait
  • He is blacklisted in the EU

KUWAIT CITY: A prominent Syrian businessman with close ties to Syrian President Bashar Assad has been arrested in Kuwait, his lawyer said Tuesday.
Mazen Al-Tarazi was arrested late Monday at his offices, his lawyer Badr Al-Yacoub told AFP.
He said that he did not yet know the reasons behind his client’s arrest.
Local authorities did not immediately release the charges against Tarazi.
But Kuwaiti newspaper Al-Qabas, citing unnamed informed sources, reported that the businessman is accused of money laundering and printing texts without authorization.
A longtime resident of Kuwait, Tarazi owns a publishing and advertising firm in partnership with a high-profile local businessman, Ahmad Al-Jarallah.
Jarallah confirmed to AFP that police had raided his offices on Monday night and arrested Tarazi’s secretary and two Al-Hadaf magazine employees.
Tarazi is on an EU blacklist of Syrian nationals who have been banned from entry to European states and whose assets have been frozen over their role in the Syria war.