On January 17, 2016, President Barack Obama presented a prisoner swap deal with Iran, releasing seven Iranian “civilian” prisoners in exchange for Iran’s promise to set five American prisoners free.
The move was announced as a gesture to win support for the nuclear deal, but an investigative report released Monday by Politico has shed alarming light on the case.
When the prisoner deal was announced, an official in the Obama administration stated, “Iran had a significantly higher number of individuals, of course, at the beginning of this negotiation that they would have liked to have seen released,” and added that “we were able to winnow that down to these seven individuals, six of whom are Iranian-Americans.”
The prisoners were described as businessmen being held for trivial “sanctions-related offenses,” when in reality, the Justice Department had accused some of them with being threats to national security.
Three allegedly were part of an illegal procurement network supplying Iran with U.S.-made microelectronics with applications in surface-to-air and cruise missiles like the kind Tehran test-fired recently, prompting a still-escalating exchange of threats with the Trump administration. Another was serving an eight-year sentence for conspiring to supply Iran with satellite technology and hardware. As part of the deal, U.S. officials even dropped their demand for $10 million that a jury said the aerospace engineer illegally received from Tehran.
In addition to the seven that were set free, Politico reports that the Justice Department also dropped charges and international arrest warrants against 14 other fugitives, although their names and offenses were not made public. The offenses reportedly included:
- Three of the fugitives had sought to lease a Boeing aircraft for an Iranian airline that supported Hezbollah.
- One was busted for trying to buy thousands of U.S. assault rifles and import them to Iran.
- Another was accused of smuggling U.S. military antennas to Hong Kong and Singapore to be used in Iran, and being part of a network that provided Iran with material for deadly IEDs.
- Another fugitive was Seyed Abolfazl Shahab Jamili, charged with a scheme from 2005-2012 involving obtaining thousands of parts with nuclear applications for Iran from China, including U.S.-made sensors.
One former federal law enforcement supervisor was quoted as stating, “They didn’t just dismiss a bunch of innocent business guys, and then they didn’t give a full story of it.”
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