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A diplomatic money game about British prisoners in Iran

Tehran is sending diplomatic signals that foreign nationals detained and convicted in Iran could be released in exchange for the release of Iranian prisoners abroad – or in exchange for cash.

This case has become a major focus of attention since a British aid worker of Iranian origin was sentenced to a new prison sentence because she had already served a longer sentence previously. Money appears to be a determining factor in its continued fate, according to diplomatic proposals, especially from Iran.

Debt settlement

British Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab said in an interview with the BBC on Sunday that Iran’s treatment of British-Iranian Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe is like “torture”. But in an interview with British Radio Times, Raab also said that the debts related to the sale of British tanks should be settled.

But the UK’s Foreign Office is explicitly lowering expectations for debt release and debt repayment.

“We continue to explore opportunities to solve this 40-year-old case, and we will not comment with more details during the legal discussions,” the foreign ministry wrote in a statement, according to the French news agency.

The case concerns a debt said to be 400 million pounds sterling – equivalent to about 4.7 billion kronor – related to the sale of combat vehicles that the Shah of Iran had requested and paid for.

Delivery of tanks was suspended when the Shah was overthrown in the 1979 revolution. Iran is demanding the money back, and the country has been acquitted in an international court. Iran is now tying reimbursement with the release of Zaghari-Ratcliffe.

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Zaghari-Ratcliffe was arrested when she arrived in Iran in 2016 and sentenced to a longer prison term for alleged incitement during mass protests in 2009.

Her trial took place behind closed doors. But once she served her sentence in April of this year, she was once again convicted and banned from leaving Iran. The accusation relates to “propaganda”, according to her lawyer.

Her husband, Richard Ratcliffe, had previously said that her prison sentence was part of a diplomatic dispute between Iran and Britain.

Swedish death sentence

The Zaghari-Ratcliffe case raises questions about the fate of two Swedish citizens in Iranian prisons. The Swedish-Iranian researcher and researcher Ahmed Reza Jalali has been sentenced to death in Iran. Sweden and Foreign Minister Anne Linde (S) demanded that the death penalty not be carried out.

Swedish citizen Habib Shaab was kidnapped in Turkey and transferred to Iran for a terrorist crime that could lead to the death penalty. The Foreign Ministry calls for consular contact with the people.

In a high profile case, British Australian citizen Kylie Moore Gilbert was sentenced to prison for espionage, but was released in November of last year. Iran claims that three Iranians imprisoned abroad were released in return. Australia declined to comment on the circumstances surrounding her release.

Iranian state media also claim that the United States and Tehran have agreed to release four American citizens from Iranian prisons in exchange for saving the equivalent of 60 billion kronor in frozen Iranian assets. In addition, Iran will release four Iranians from US prisons, according to Reuters news agency.

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The US State Department denies the allegations.

Grim Berglund / TT