By Ehsan Mehrabi
January 14, 2021
Iran’s parliament has expressed confidence that the United Kingdom will pay the equivalent of $800 million to release jailed Iranian-British citizen Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe, a new budget committee report has indicated. The report also stated that it will add the amount to its military spending.
Iranian parliament’s Budget Consolidation Committee has announced that 20,000 trillion tomans [$800 m] will be added to the next budget to reflect the expected amount the United Kingdom will pay for Zaghari-Ratcliffe, who has been held in Iran since April 2016.
Tasnim News Agency reported that 300 trillion tomans had been added to the 2020-2021 budget, and out of this amount, 20 trillion tomans related to lawsuits brought by the Iranian Ministry of Defense in international courts, including an outstanding debt the United Kingdom owes Iran for 1,500 British Chieftain or Shir-e Iran tanks and armored vehicles the Shah had ordered in the 1970s, which have never been delivered. The Free Nazanin campaign and the UK government have repeatedly emphasized that Iran is holding Zaghari-Ratcliffe hostage for the debt, and various Iranian officials have announced that she will be released once the debt is paid. But the British government continues to dispute the claim that it owes Iran $400 million.
One of the claims of the Ministry of Defense is the dispute between Iran and Britain over the money of Chieftain or Shir-e Iran tanks in the amount of $400 million. The contract for the purchase of these tanks was signed during the time of Mohammad Reza Pahlavi.
Mohsen Dehnavi, who represents Tehran in parliament, said the amount will be added to Iran’s military budget.
The committee’s report does not mention the international lawsuits.
Prior to this, the 2018-2019 budget anticipated 31 trillion tomans resulting from these lawsuits and it was announced that this figure would be spent on the military budget.
Defense Ministry officials did not go into detail about the specifics of the proceeds it expects.
Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe was arrested by Revolutionary Guards on April 3, 2016 at Imam Khomeini Airport as she waited to return to London after visiting her family in Tehran. Iran has been accused of using Zaghari-Ratcliffe and other dual nationals as bargaining chips to settle debts with the United States, the United Kingdom and other countries.
Various Iranian politicians have claimed the administration of Barack Obama paid for the release of US citizens, and so have pushed it as a policy for generating income.
Mohsen Rezaei, the former commander of the Revolutionary Guards, said in 2015: “If there is a war between Iran and the United States, we will take a thousand prisoners from the United States in the first week, and then they will have to pay several billion dollars to release each of them. Then our economic problems will be solved.”
The remarks were widely reported, prompting reactions from some former Revolutionary Guards commanders, including Hossein Alaei.
Hassan Abbasi, a controversial figure with close links to the Revolutionary Guards, had also said: “How can we increase the Revolutionary Guards’ budget? The Guards, hires a spy, Jason Rezaeian … The government takes $1.7 billion and hands over the spy. So the Guards, by catching a spy, can obtain one to two billion that the government then hands over to the Guards.”
Shortly after the January 2016 prisoner exchange between Iran and the United States, which occurred about six months after the nuclear deal, the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), was signed, the Wall Street Journal reported that the United States had sent two shipments of cash totaling 1.7 billion to Iran by plane.
The Obama administration denied the payment was a ransom payment to Iran, but also confirmed that it did not pay the money until it was sure US journalist Jason Rezaian and others were free. That payment, as with the British debt to Iran, was linked to incomplete arms contracts dating back to the Shah, Mohammad Reza Pahlavi.
Following this, hardliner principlists viewed prisoner deals as more lucrative than negotiations like the JCPOA. Iranian state television broadcast a film on the subject, The Rule of the Game.
It was later announced that prisoner exchange talks had been conducted by security agencies. Hossein Nejat, the deputy intelligence commander of the Revolutionary Guards, claimed his institution led the talks, but the Ministry of Intelligence insisted they were conducted by one of their representatives in cooperation with the Central Bank and the Presidential Legal Office.
Then Minister of Intelligence Mahmoud Alavi said, in line with the views of the Supreme Leader, and following a decision taken by the Supreme National Security Council, the Ministry of Intelligence had negotiated with the United States for the exchange of Iranian and American prisoners and obtained various “advantages for the country, including a sum of $400 million. We gave the $400 million, along with $1.31 billion in profits to the country.”
Negotiations with security services for the release of the prisoners continued, and shortly after the release of Kylie Moore Gilbert on November 26, 2020, it was announced that Nick Warner, the head of the Australian intelligence service and a former ambassador to Tehran, had engaged in discussions with the Iranian foreign ministry and in negotiations with the Revolutionary Guards.
The detention of American and European citizens, especially dual nationals, has been exploited by the Islamic Republic for various agendas. Some have been exchanged for money and some have been exchanged for Iranians who had been detained for circumventing sanctions or terrorist acts.
This has prompted Islamic Republic officials to speak more openly — and sometimes even with pride — about the practice than they have in the past. So far, the policy has benefited the Islamic Republic, or at least it has not cost it so much that it has seriously considered reforming it.