Iran confirms release of five prisoners in swap with US for Iranian-Americans

Deal also involves billions in Iranian assets once held by South Korea

Washington wants the release of, from left, Emad Shargi, Morad Tahbaz and Siamak Namazi. Reuters
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Iran has confirmed five Iranian nationals detained in the US will be released in exchange for five Americans held in the Islamic Republic, Iran's news agency Irna said.

“Under a prisoner swap deal between the two countries, the five Iranian nationals who were held illegally for circumventing Washington’s anti-Iran sanctions will be released,” Iran's Permanent Mission to the UN in New York said on Tuesday.

It added that some of them will return to Iran, others will remain in the US.

The announcement by the Iranian mission comes after the Biden administration issued a blanket waiver for international banks to transfer $6 billion in frozen Iranian money from South Korea to Qatar without fear of US sanctions.

The moves by Tehran and Washington appeared to signal the prisoner swap is progressing, as the money once held in South Korean won is converted into euros and moved to Qatar, where Iran will be able to use it for humanitarian purposes.

In a statement to the Associated Press, Ali Karimi Magham, a spokesman for the Iranian mission, confirmed the list of prisoners that Tehran wants released as:

  • Kaveh Lotfolah Afrasiabi, an Iranian charged in 2021 for allegedly failing to register as a foreign agent on Iran's behalf while lobbying US officials on issues like nuclear policy.
  • Mehrdad Ansari, an Iranian sentenced to 63 months in prison in 2021 for obtaining equipment that could be used in missiles, electronic warfare, nuclear weapons and other military gear.
  • Amin Hasanzadeh, an Iranian and permanent resident of the United States who prosecutors charged in 2019 with allegedly stealing engineering plans from his employer to send to Iran.
  • Reza Sarhangpour Kafrani, an Iranian charged in 2021 for allegedly unlawful exportation of laboratory equipment to Iran
  • Kambiz Attar Kashani, an Iranian-American sentenced in February to 30 months in prison for purchasing “sophisticated, top-tier US electronic equipment and software” through front companies in the UAE.

The US State Department declined to comment, citing “the sensitivity of this ongoing process”.

Washington is seeking the release of:

  • Siamak Namazi, who was detained in Iran in 2015 and later sentenced to 10 years in prison on spying charges.
  • Emad Sharghi, a venture capitalist sentenced to 10 years.
  • Morad Tahbaz, a British-American conservationist of Iranian descent who was arrested in 2018 and also received a 10-year sentence.

The fourth and fifth prisoners were not identified. All five are under house arrest at a hotel in Tehran.

Updated: September 13, 2023, 9:10 AM