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The New Arab Staff & Agencies

US court orders Iran to pay $1.4bn in damages to family of missing ex-FBI agent

Robert Levinson disappeared in March 2007 on Iran's Kish island [Getty]

Date of publication: 6 October, 2020

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A US court has ruled Iran owes the family of ex-FBI agent Robert Levinson, who is presumed to have died in Iranian custody, over $1.4bn in punitive and compensatory damages
A US judge has ordered Iran to pay $1.45 billion to the family of a former FBI agent believed to have been kidnapped by the Islamic Republic while on an unauthorised CIA mission to an Iranian island in 2007.

This month's ruling comes after Robert Levinson's family and the US government now believe he died in custody in Iran, something long denied by Tehran, even though officials at the time offered contradictory accounts about what happened to him on Kish Island.

Tensions remain high between the US and Iran amid President Donald Trump's maximum pressure campaign over Tehran's nuclear programme.

Although relations between the US and Iran have been frozen since 1979, Washington stills holds billions of dollars in Iranian assets that could be used to pay Levinson's family.

In a ruling on Thursday, the US District Court in Washington found Iran owed Levinson's family $1.35 billion in punitive damages and $107 million in compensatory damages for his kidnapping.

The court cited the case of Otto Warmbier, an American college student who died in 2017 shortly after being freed from captivity in North Korea, in deciding to award the massive amount of punitive damages to Levinson's family.

"Iran's conduct here is also unique, given that - astonishingly - it plucked a former FBI and DEA special agent from the face of the earth without warning, tortured him, held him captive for as long as 13 years, and to this day refuses to admit its responsibility," the ruling by Judge Timothy J. Kelly said.

"And his wife and children, and their spouses and children - while keeping Levinson’s memory alive - have had to proceed with their lives without knowing his exact fate. These are surely acts worthy of the gravest condemnation," the judge added.

Iranian state media and officials in Tehran did not immediately acknowledge the ruling in a case that Iran has offered no defence.

In a statement, Levinson's family called the court's award "the first step in the pursuit of justice".

"Until now, Iran has faced no consequences for its actions," the family said. "Judge Kelly's decision won’t bring Bob home, but we hope that it will serve as a warning against further hostage taking by Iran."

Levinson disappeared from Iran's Kish Island on 9 March, 2007. For years, US officials would only say that Levinson, a meticulous FBI investigator credited with bringing down Russian and Italian mob leaders, was working for a private firm on his trip.

In December 2013, it was discovered that Levinson had in fact been on a mission for CIA analysts who had no authority to run spy operations.

Levinson's family had received a $2.5 million annuity from the CIA in order to stop a lawsuit revealing details of his work, while the agency forced out three veteran analysts and disciplined seven others.

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