Tuesday 25 September 2018

Iran prisoner release 'tied to arms deal debt'

Richard Ratcliffe (right), the husband of jailed mother Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe, and Kate Allen, from Amnesty International, hand in a letter to the Iranian Embassy in London. Photo: PA
Richard Ratcliffe (right), the husband of jailed mother Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe, and Kate Allen, from Amnesty International, hand in a letter to the Iranian Embassy in London. Photo: PA

Roland Oliphant and Emma Gatten

The fate of a British-Iranian woman jailed in Iran is tied to the settlement of interest payments on a £400m (¤452m)debt the UK owes Tehran, her family has said.

Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe, who has been held in an Iranian jail since April 2016, said a judge told her that her release hinged on money owed on an unfulfilled arms deal dating back to the 70s.

The Shah of Iran paid upfront for a consignment of British Chieftain tanks and support vehicles, but the contract was cancelled after he was overthrown in the revolution of 1979.

Iran has been seeking to recover the sum ever since.

Britain paid money intended for the debt into a frozen bank account in 2002, but wrangles over the interest and legality of paying money to Iran while it was under international sanctions have delayed payment.

British officials have denied that Ms Zaghari-Ratcliffe, who has been charged with attempting to undermine the Iranian regime, is being held as collateral or that there is any link between talks over the debt and her release.

But Richard Ratcliffe, her husband, said an Iranian judge told his wife her release was dependent on payment of the interest and the Iranian foreign ministry was in talks with the UK over finalising the amount.

"It is the first time we've been told that it is linked to the dispute over the interest rate. But it is at least the second time an Iranian official has told Nazanin her case is linked with the arms deal debt," Mr Ratcliffe said.

An UK foreign office spokesman said: "We and the Iranians reject any idea the two issues are linked. Funding to settle the debt was paid to the High Court by the Treasury and the International Military Services in 2002. Iran's ministry of defence remains subject to EU sanctions."

Abbas Araghchi, Iran's deputy foreign minister, arrived in London yesterday for talks.

He said the world would be plunged into a nuclear crisis if Donald Trump continued to sabotage the Iran nuclear deal.

© Daily Telegraph, London

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