Iran denies UK plan to repay debt for release of Zaghari
Iran has rejected British media reports that the UK was preparing to pay an outstanding debt to Tehran to have Iranian national Nazanin Zaghari released from prison.
Iran’s intelligence authorities arrested Zaghari at the Imam Khomeini International Airport in April 2016 on spying charges as she was on her way home to London after visiting her parents in Tehran.
Zaghari was subsequently tried in an Iranian court and sentenced to five years in prison for spreading propaganda against the Islamic Republic.
British media have said that she worked for the Thomson Reuters Foundation. However, UK Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson said in a statement to a parliamentary committee last week that Zaghari had been “simply teaching people journalism.”
Johnson’s remarks amounted to an accidental confession that Zaghari was plotting against the Iranian government, but British authorities described them a gaffe.
The Telegraph cited unidentified sources as saying this week that London was planning to transfer over £400 million ($528 million) in debt to Iran to have Zaghari released.
The debt is related to an arms deal signed during the 1970s, with the paper saying that Britain had sought legal advice about the transfer of money to Iran.
The British tabloid daily, The Sun, said Iran had demanded that Britain return the money which the former Shah of Iran paid in 1979 for 1,750 Chieftain tanks and other vehicles, almost none of which was eventually delivered.
Iran’s Foreign Ministry spokesman, Bahram Qassemi, dismissed the report on Thursday, saying that “the British government’s debt pay-off to Iran has no connection to the case of Mrs. Nazanin Zaghari and these two issues are two separate cases.”
“The case of Mrs. Nazanin Zaghari has been investigated in the Iranian court and she has been convicted after necessary legal procedures were completed,” he told the ISNA news agency.
Qassemi said the Islamic Republic had tried for long to uphold the right of the Iranian nation and held talks with the UK government, adding that linking the debt issue to the case of Zaghari was “totally wrong and untrue.”
British Prime Minister Theresa May’s spokesman also stressed Thursday that there was no link between the £400 million debt owed to Iran and the fate of Zaghari.
“We are clear we don’t see any link between these two issues,” the spokesman said, adding, “The reports are speculation, not anything that I recognize.”