The administration of US President Joe Biden sanctioned Iran's hardline former president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad on Monday after the completion of a prisoner swap with Tehran that included the release of five American detainees.
Mr Ahmadinejad, who was sanctioned for his alleged involvement in the wrongful detention of US citizens, has not made any public appearances lately.
The former firebrand leader has been silent on X, formerly Twitter, where up until last year, he frequently posted political commentary as well as sports news.
White House officials said the sanctions were due to Mr Ahmadinejad's role in the detention of US citizens, as well as the presumed death of Bob Levinson, a retired FBI agent who disappeared in Iran after he was detained in 2007.
Iran has never acknowledged Mr Levinson's detention. His family, under the advice of the US government, announced his presumed death in Iranian custody in March 2020.
Later that year, the US Treasury Department sanctioned two employees Iran's Ministry of Intelligence in connection with Mr Levinson's disappearance.
“We will never stop demanding that Iranian leaders answer for what happened to Robert Levinson, the greatest man we have ever known,” his family said in a statement on Monday.
“His abduction on Iranian soil in March 2007, his years of imprisonment with a total lack of any human rights or decency, and ultimately his murder, are on their hands.”
Mr Ahmadinejad, 66, a populist leader who was president from 2005-2013, challenged the West by rapidly advancing Tehran’s nuclear programme, which he insisted was for peaceful purposes.
During his address to the UN General Assembly in 2011, Mr Ahmadinejad, who was known for wearing smart suits but never a tie, prompted diplomats to walk out of the chamber after referring to the 2001 terrorist attacks against the US as the “mysterious September 11 incident”.
He also said Zionists in Israel were responsible for “mass murder and terror against the Palestinians”.
Amid nationwide mass protests in Iran in 2017-2018, Mr Ahmadinejad criticised then-president Hassan Rouhani’s economic policies. He later took to social media to denounce corruption in Iran's government.
Mr Ahmadinejad attempted to run for another term office in 2017, in defiance of Iran’s supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who said that such a move would harm the country. He was later disqualified from running.
In May 2021, he registered to run for president once more, but along with other candidates, was also prevented from doing so.
Last year, Mr Ahmadinejad expressed support for the people of Ukraine and praised Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy over his resistance to Russia's invasion, contradicting Iran's official stance on the war and its alliance with Russia.
The five Americans who were freed on Monday were detained under Mr Ahmadinejad's successors Mr Rouhani and Ibrahim Raisi.