Iran scientist acquitted in US trade secrets case deported

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Updated 02 June 2020

Iran scientist acquitted in US trade secrets case deported

  • Asghari had been indicted in April 2016
  • He was accused of trying to steal secret research from Case Western Reserve University

TEHRAN: An Iranian scientist imprisoned in the US and acquitted in a federal trade secrets case is on his way back to Iran after being deported, the country’s foreign minister said Tuesday.
Sirous Asgari was in the air on a flight back to Iran, Mohammad Javad Zarif said in an Instagram post.
“Congratulations to his wife and his esteemed family,” Zarif wrote.
Iran’s state-run IRNA news agency later reported the news, citing Zarif.
Asgari, a professor at Iran’s Sharif University of Technology, had been indicted in April 2016, accused by federal prosecutors of trying to steal secret research from Case Western Reserve University. The Cleveland school had been working on a project for the US Navy Office of Naval Research to create and produce anti-corrosive stainless steel.
Asgari ultimately was acquitted in November after US District Judge James Gwin tossed out the case by the prosecutors.
Ken Cuccinelli, the acting deputy Homeland Security secretary, earlier told The Associated Press that the DHS had started to try to deport Asgari on Dec. 12 following his acquittal. However, he said, Iran refused to recognize him as legitimately Iranian and provide him with a valid passport until late February.
Once Asgari received the passport, DHS made several attempts to fly him back to Iran, purchasing tickets for flights on March 10, March 18, March 23, April 1 and May 1, according to Cuccinelli. Each of those flights was canceled due to the coronavirus pandemic, he said.
Asgari’s supporters told The Guardian newspaper in April he had contracted the coronavirus while imprisoned. He had been held at Louisiana’s Winn Correctional Center by US Immigration and Customs Enforcement before his deportation, they said.
Iran’s deputy education minister, Hossein Salar Amoli, recently said Asgari had recovered from the virus and would be able to travel, IRNA reported.
Iranian officials had associated Asgari’s release with US prisoners held in Iran potentially being freed, something Cuccinelli strongly disputed. Iranian officials in recent days had been saying they believed Asgari soon would return to Iran.
Among the US citizens held in Iran is US Navy veteran Michael White, of Imperial Beach, California. White was detained in July 2018 while visiting a girlfriend in Iran. He was convicted of insulting Iran’s supreme leader and posting private information online.
He was released from prison in March on a medical furlough that required him to remain in the country in the care of the Swiss Embassy in Tehran, which represents America’s interests in Iran. White is among tens of thousands of prisoners granted medical furloughs by Iran, which was one of the first countries to be hit hard by the spread of the coronavirus.
In December, Iran released a Princeton University scholar held for three years on widely disputed espionage charges in exchange for the release of a detained Iranian scientist.
In March, the family of former FBI agent Robert Levinson, who vanished in Iran 13 years ago on an unauthorized CIA mission, said they had been informed by US officials that they had determined that Levinson was probably dead. They have not elaborated on how they made that determination.
Westerners and Iranian dual nationals with ties to the West often find themselves tried and convicted in closed-door trials in Iran, only later to be used as bargaining chips in negotiations.
The release comes as the US under President Donald Trump continues a maximum-pressure campaign targeting Iran after unilaterally withdrawing from Tehran’s nuclear deal with world powers in May 2018. In the time since, the two countries have seen a series of escalating incidents, including the US drone strike killing an Iranian general in Baghdad and an Iranian ballistic missile attack targeting American troops in Iraq.


Lebanon’s Tripoli port readies to fill in for blast-hit Beirut

Updated 11 min 39 sec ago

Lebanon’s Tripoli port readies to fill in for blast-hit Beirut

  • The vast majority of Lebanon’s food and other imports used to transit through Beirut port
  • Lebanon relies on imports for 85 percent of its food needs

TRIPOLI: Lebanon’s northern port city of Tripoli is readying its harbor to temporarily replace that of Beirut, which was levelled in last week’s massive explosion, officials said Thursday.
Tripoli port’s capacity is smaller than the capital’s, through which the vast majority of Lebanon’s food and other imports used to transit.
A fire at Beirut port on August 4 caught a huge stockpile of ammonium nitrate, causing an explosion that devastated swathes of the city and killed at least 171 people.
Immediately after the disaster, Lebanon’s Supreme Defense Council ordered that the port of Tripoli be prepped for “import and export operations.”
“The port of Tripoli can stand in for Beirut on a temporary basis, for the time it will take it to be operational again,” Tripoli port director Ahmad Tamer told AFP.
The smaller ports of Saida and Tyre can also contribute to the effort but their capacity is limited and does not allow for bigger vessels to dock.
Lebanon relies on imports for 85 percent of its food needs and the UN’s World Food Programme has warned that the destruction of the main port could worsen an already alarming situation.
Lebanon’s economic collapse in recent months has seen it default on its debt, sent the local currency into free-fall and poverty rates soaring to near third world levels, all amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
Tamer said seven ships that were on their way to Beirut on the day of the gigantic explosion immediately rerouted to Tripoli, where they unloaded their cargo.
Tripoli had already undergone major upgrade works in order to accomodate increased traffic expected in connection with the reconstruction effort needed in neighboring, war-ravaged Syria.
Tamer said that before the explosion Tripoli port was only functioning at 40 percent capacity, processing two million tons of imports per year, with a capacity to absorb a maximum of five million tons.
The port director said that he wanted to launch a plan to increase work at the port and hire more employees in order to process more than its current rate of 80,000 containers a year.