UK denies paying 'blood money' for Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe release

Former US secretary of state Mike Pompeo criticised Britain for 'rewarding hostage-takers'

Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe and Anoosheh Ashoori smile as they sit in a plane flying over London. Reuters
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The UK on Thursday defended the payment of almost £400 million ($525m) to Iran after former US secretary of state Mike Pompeo accused Britain of paying “blood money” to secure the release of two detainees.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s office insisted the payment to settle an outstanding military debt was “not contingent” on the release of British-Iranian dual citizens Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe and Anoosheh Ashoori.

It came after Mr Pompeo, who served under former president Donald Trump and is a long-standing critic of Iran, accused Britain of “rewarding hostage-takers” and said the money would be used to terrorise the UK, US and Israel.

“The UK priced taking and holding its citizens hostage at $530 million,” he said.

Mr Johnson’s spokesman said the payments were made “in parallel” with the release of the two detainees, to cover an order for Chieftain tanks that was cancelled following the Iranian revolution in 1979.

“We have resolved that debt as we always said we would. The UK has never accepted our nationals being used as political leverage for any purpose,” the spokesman said.

Ms Zaghari-Ratcliffe and Mr Ashoori have returned to the UK after spending years in Iranian prisons on charges of espionage, which Britain described as unjustified.

A third detainee, Morad Tahbaz, was released from prison on furlough and Foreign Secretary Liz Truss said diplomatic efforts to secure his departure from Iran should continue.

She attributed the release of the three prisoners to “tenacious and creative British diplomacy” and said the money paid to Iran would be ring-fenced solely for the purchase of humanitarian goods.

Another minister in the Foreign Office, James Cleverly, said officials had to work around international and British sanctions against Iran to come up with a deal to solve the dispute.

The debt was owed by the Ministry of Defence-owned company International Military Services Limited, which had signed a contract with the shah of Iran’s government before he was overthrown.

Iran had made initial payments to Britain but the contract was not fulfilled once the shah was toppled and the revolutionary government took power.

Updated: March 18, 2022, 9:32 AM