Belgium has completed a controversial prisoner exchange with Iran. Belgian development worker Olivier Vandecasteele is on his way home after more than a year in prison in Iran, the Belgian Ministry of Foreign Affairs reported on Twitter on Friday.
In return, Iranian diplomat Assadollah Assadi, convicted of terrorism charges, was released, Iranian Foreign Minister Hussein Amirabdollahian announced. Oman brokered the exchange of prisoners. His sultan Haitham bin Tarik is expected in Tehran on Sunday.
Arrested in Germany in 2018, Assadi was sentenced to 20 years in prison by a court in Antwerp in 2021 for allegedly plotting to bomb a mass demonstration by Iranian opposition members in exile in France. To the end, Iran maintained that Assadi was innocent.
Allegations of espionage and cooperation with the US
According to the Iranian judiciary, development worker Vandecasteele has been sentenced to a total of 40 years in prison and 74 lashes. In particular, he was accused of espionage and cooperation with archenemy USA and money smuggling.
The case is particularly explosive because, according to the investigation, 51-year-old Assadi is an employee of the Iranian secret service, whose tasks include monitoring and combating opposition groups inside and outside Iran. It is therefore considered possible that the attack plans in France were based on a direct government order.
The opposition group NCRI, which is banned in Iran, also supports this statement. The National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI) organized the mass rally on June 30, 2018 in Villepinte near Paris. Many Western supporters also participated, including Rudy Giuliani, the lawyer of then US President Donald Trump. The group is controversial in the Iranian diaspora. Some voices called for the deal to be scrapped.
The arrest took place in Bavaria
The Iranian government had already protested Assadi’s arrest in Germany because the man was accredited as a diplomat at the Iranian embassy in Vienna at the time of the crime. On July 1, 2018, he was apprehended at a motorway service station near Aschaffenburg in Bavaria and subsequently handed over from Germany to Belgium.
German justice argued that the man was not under diplomatic protection when he was arrested because he was on holiday outside Austria. The federal prosecutor’s office had, among other things, obtained an arrest warrant against Assadi for his activities as a secret service agent and conspiracy to commit murder.
Critics accuse Iran of detaining foreigners in order to have a bargaining chip. According to the Iranian government, talks are currently on the table again about a prisoner exchange with the United States. In 2016, Washington Post journalist Jason Rezaian was released along with three other US citizens. In return, the US pardoned seven Iranians accused of violating US sanctions. (oee/sda/dpa)
I am Amelia James, a passionate journalist with a deep-rooted interest in current affairs. I have more than five years of experience in the media industry, working both as an author and editor for 24 Instant News. My main focus lies in international news, particularly regional conflicts and political issues around the world.