Iran denies knowledge of ex-FBI agent presumed dead in captivity

Bob Levinson went missing on Iran’s Kish Island while on a mission to investigate corruption

(FILES) This photo courtesy of the Levinson family at www.helpboblevinson.com shows a 2007 image of former FBI Agent Bob Levinson.  The former FBI agent Robert Levinson, who disappeared under mysterious circumstances in 2007, has died in Iranian custody, his family said on March 25, 2020. "We recently received information from US officials that has led both them and us to conclude that our wonderful husband and father died while in Iranian custody," said a statement from Levinson's family. USIrandiplomacyprisoners  - RESTRICTED TO EDITORIAL USE - MANDATORY CREDIT "AFP PHOTO / AFP PHOTO/WWW.HELPBOBLEVINSON.COM" - NO MARKETING - NO ADVERTISING CAMPAIGNS - DISTRIBUTED AS A SERVICE TO CLIENTS





 / AFP / WWW.HELPBOBLEVINSON.COM / - / RESTRICTED TO EDITORIAL USE - MANDATORY CREDIT "AFP PHOTO / AFP PHOTO/WWW.HELPBOBLEVINSON.COM" - NO MARKETING - NO ADVERTISING CAMPAIGNS - DISTRIBUTED AS A SERVICE TO CLIENTS

Iran has denied knowing the fate of a former FBI agent who is presumed dead after going missing there 13 years ago.

The family of Bob Levinson said they had learnt that he probably died in Iranian custody after going missing in 2007 while on a secret mission to investigate high-level Iranian corruption.

The last news received of Mr Levinson was in 2011 when the US-based family received video and photographs of the private investigator who was purportedly held by a terrorist group.

Backed by rewards of $25 million, they had continued to seek his return from Tehran but said yesterday that they now believed him to be dead.

Tehran maintained their longstanding position on Thursday that they did not know where he was and that he was not in Iranian custody.

“Based on credible evidence, Levinson has left Iran years ago for an unspecified destination,” Foreign Ministry spokesman Abbas Mousavi said, according to state television. “In the past years Iran has tried to find out his state but could not find any signs of him being alive.”

Mr Levinson’s family have vowed to maintain the pressure on officials to seek the return of his body.

“His body has not yet been returned to us for a proper burial,” the family said in a statement. “We don’t even know when, or even if, his body would be returned to us. This is the very definition of cruelty.

Tom Cotton, a US senator, said on Twitter that Iran “must pay for its unspeakable crimes against Bob Levinson and other Americans they hold in captivity”.

Robert O’Brien, the White House national security adviser who was previously responsible for seeking the return of US hostages held overseas, said that an investigation was continuing but said he believed the former agent may have died “some time ago”. US President Donald Trump said he had not been told of Mr Levinson’s death.

Mr Levinson’s wife and seven children gave evidence in a US court last year in a legal claim against Iran, which they blamed for his disappearance.

The private investigator travelled to the Iranian resort of Kish Island to question a contact over claims that Iranian officials were taking a cut from oil sales and hiding the money in overseas investment. He checked out of his hotel following the meeting but has not been seen since March 9, 2007.

A US judge ruled on the 13th anniversary of the day he went missing that he had been held and tortured by officials acting on behalf of the Iranian state. His capture had the hallmarks of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, the judge found.

The judge found that “despite Iran’s apparent denials of responsibility for Levinson’s abduction, there are no other plausible explanations in the record for what happened to him”.

The family said in their statement on Wednesday that they did not know how or when he died but it was before the Covid-19 pandemic which has badly hit Iran.

“It is impossible to describe our pain. Our family will spend the rest of our lives without the most amazing man we have ever known, a new reality that is inconceivable to us.”

“How those responsible in Iran could do this to a human being, while repeatedly lying to the world all this time, is incomprehensible to us.”

The US Congress is also preparing to debate a proposed new law in his name that is designed to help hostages and punish those responsible for holding them.