Iran releases five US citizens after receiving €5.5bn of frozen funds

Iran releases five US citizens after receiving €5.5bn of frozen funds
Five US-Iranian prisoners have been released from jail in Iran and left the country by plane after €5.5bn for frozen funds were released by US. / bne IntelliNews
By bne IntelliNews September 18, 2023

Iran has released five dual Iranian-US citizens and handed them over to US diplomats waiting in Qatar's Doha's International Airport.

Flight data tracked by bne IntelliNews showed QTR7313 landed earlier in the day on September 18 in Tehran as part of a complex negotiation process which has taken several years to complete between the US and Iran, which included frozen Iranian funds in South Korea, Iranian citizens held in the US and sanctions on Iranian oil shipments.

The flight, which took off as bne IntelliNews went to press, landed in Qatar’s capital Doha by mid-afternoon CET following the arrival of two Iranian prisoners held in a US prison.

Earlier, Iran’s Central Bank (CBI) announced that its funds had been transferred to several bank accounts held by Iranian commercial banks in Qatar’s Central Bank, totalling $6bn. The money was held previously in Korean won before being converted into euros. That announcement enabled the Supreme Leader's Office to give the nod for the release of the dual citizens. 

The governor of the CBI had earlier announced the receipt of an official letter from Qatari authorities confirming the transfer of €5.5bn to the accounts of six Iranian banks, IRGC-linked Mashregh reported on September 18.

Governor Mohammadreza Farzin, in an interview with the 2 p.m. news segment of the national broadcaster, discussed the release of Iran's frozen assets in South Korea. He said that, as per the agreements made, all of Iran's inaccessible foreign resources in two South Korean banks and the Bank Melli branch in Seoul were transferred to the Swiss Central Bank on August 10.

The Governor continued, explaining that the six Iranian banks, including the Bank Keshavarzi, Saman Bank, Pasargad Bank, Tourism Bank, Karafarin Bank, and Bank Shahr, have opened accounts in Qatar's Al-Dukhan and Al-Ahli banks.

All payments will be facilitated by the international brokers of these two Qatari banks through the SWIFT system.

Qatar has emerged as a negotiation hub between the US and Iran. It has hosted at least eight rounds of talks as regards the prisoners, one source said. The actual prisoner exchange is expected to transpire on Qatari soil.

In a preliminary move last August, Iran shifted four US citizens from a Tehran prison to house arrest, while one US citizen was already under such conditions.

Among those slated for release by Iran are businessmen Siamak Namazi and Emad Sharqi and environmentalist Morad Tahbaz, who also holds British citizenship.

Tehran has previously sought the release of a dozen Iranians held in the US. They include seven Iranian-American dual nationals.

Iran named the five Iranians released by the US as Mehrdad Moin-Ansari, Kambiz Attar-Kashani, Reza Sarhangpour-Kafrani, Amin Hassanzadeh and Kaveh Afrasiabi, a frequent commentator on Tehran’s state-controlled Press TV.

Iranian officials previously noted that Afrasiabi would stay in the United States.

On their arrival, a US diplomat said the release had not softened Washington’s stance on Tehran “If we see an opportunity, we will explore it, but right now, I've really nothing to talk about," the official told Reuters, speaking anonymously.

At the same time of the release, Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi has landed in New York for an upcoming meeting at the UN General Assembly in the next few days.