US court: Iran owes $1.4B over ex-FBI agent presumed dead

Politics

FILE – In this March 6, 2012, file photo, an FBI poster showing a composite image of former FBI agent Robert Levinson, right, of how he would look like now after five years in captivity, and an image, center, taken from the video, released by his kidnappers, and a picture before he was kidnapped, left, displayed during a news conference in Washington. A U.S. judge ordered Iran on Thursday, Oct. 1, 2020, to pay $1.45 billion to Levinson’s family, who is believed to have been kidnapped by the Islamic Republic while on an unauthorized CIA mission to an Iranian island in 2007. (AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta, File)

DUBAI, United Arab Emirates (AP) — A U.S. 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 unauthorized CIA mission to an Iranian island in 2007.

The judgment this month comes after Robert Levinson’s family and the U.S. government now believehe died in the Iranian government’s custody, something long denied by Tehran, though officials over time have offered contradictory accounts about what happened to him on Kish Island.

Tensions remain high between the U.S. and Iran amid President Donald Trump’s maximalist pressure campaign over Tehran’s nuclear program. And though the U.S. and Iran haven’t had diplomatic relations since the aftermath of the 1979 U.S. Embassy hostage crisis in Tehran, America stills holds billions of dollars in frozen Iranian assets that could be used to pay Levinson’s family.

In a ruling dated Thursday, the U.S. 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.

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.”

Asked about the ruling, Alireza Miryousefi, a spokesman at Iran’s mission to the United Nations, said Iran “does not recognize U.S. courts’ jurisdiction.”

“We have said time and again that we have no information about his whereabouts,” Miryousefi said.

Levinson disappeared from Iran’s Kish Island on March 9, 2007. For years, U.S. officials would only say that Levinson, a meticulous FBI investigator credited with busting Russian and Italian mobsters, was working for a private firm on his trip.

In December 2013, the AP revealed Levinson in fact had 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.

___

Follow Jon Gambrell on Twitter at www.twitter.com/jongambrellAP.

Copyright 2020 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

CBS47 On Your Side

Do you have a problem that you need help solving? Contact CBS47 and let us be On Your Side.

Phone: 559-761-0383
Email: OnYourSide@cbsfresno.com

Images from Armenia

Small patients in Armenia
Yerevan by night.
Dr. Jeff Thomas delivers.
Dr. Jeff Thomas delivers in Gyumri.
Doctors unpack medical supplies from The Central Valley.
Fresno Medical Mission at work.
Medical Supplies being unloaded.
Fresno Medical Mission at the ready.
KSEE24 crew witnesses the miracle of life in Gyumri, Armenia.
Life saving work of Central Valley surgeons in Armenia.
Ribbon cutting on new surgical center in Ashtarak Armenia. Fresno donors made this dream come true.
KSEE24 on assignment with the Fresno Medical Mission
Honorary Consulate to Armenia Berj Apkarian explains the crisis facing one hospital.
KSEE24's Stefani Booroojian and Kevin Mahan at the meeting with President Bako Sahakyan.
Medical Meeting in Artsakh.
The President of Artsakh meets with the Fresno Medical Mission.
Learning modern medicine techniques with the Fresno Medical Mission in surgery.
Leaning in for a look. Dr. Brien Tonkinson holds class and helps a patient in Armenia.
Fresno Medical Mission cares on one of the smallest patients in the region. Six-year old Yanna receives life-changing better breathing surgery.