US blames Iran in abduction, death of ex-FBI agent Robert Levinson

World

US Daniel Levinson (L) shows a picture of his father, ex-FBI agent Robert Levinson, holding his grandson Ryan during a press conference with his mother Christine at the Swiss embassy in Tehran, 22 December 2007. The wife of the former agent missing in Iran since March said today she has received “no answers” about his fate at the end of her trip to the Islamic republic in search of her husband, who Washington says went missing on a visit to the Iranian island of Kish. The Tehran government reiterated earlier it has no information that Levinson had disappeared on its territory. AFP PHOTO/BEHROUZ MEHRI (Photo credit should read BEHROUZ MEHRI/AFP via Getty Images)

WASHINGTON (NewsNation Now) — The United States on Monday formerly blamed and blacklisted two Iranian officials who it accused of involvement in the March 2007 disappearance of Robert Levinson, a former FBI agent who the United States believes was abducted in Iran and died in captivity.

In announcing that it had imposed sanctions on Mohammad Baseri and Ahmad Khazai of Iran’s Ministry of Intelligence and Security, U.S. officials told reporters that their public identification would lead to further information about Levinson.

“The abduction of Mr. Levinson in Iran is an outrageous example of the Iranian regime’s willingness to commit unjust acts,” Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said in a statement.

U.S. officials said the Iranian regime sanctioned the plot that led to Levinson’s abduction and lied for years about its involvement in his disappearance through disinformation campaigns aimed at covering up the government’s role.

As a result of the sanctions, all property of the two men falling under U.S. jurisdiction must be blocked and U.S. persons are generally barred from dealing with them. Non-U.S. persons risk being blacklisted for dealing with them and foreign banks could be punished for knowingly facilitating a significant transaction for them.

In a conference call, U.S. officials said all evidence the United States has gathered so far indicates that Levinson, who went missing on Iran’s Kish Island in the Gulf in 2007, likely died in captivity.

Officials on Monday would not describe any additional information that led them to believe Levinson had died in captivity, except to say that all evidence they had pointed in that direction, or how they came to identify the role of the two individual intelligence officers.

They also said that no agreement with Iran should be reached without a deal to free the remaining handful of U.S. citizens imprisoned in that country. At least three U.S. citizens are currently detained by Iran: Baquer Namazi, his son Siamak Namazi, and Morad Tahbaz

Levinson vanished on March 9, 2007, when he was scheduled to meet a source on the Iranian island of Kish. For years, U.S. officials would say only that Levinson was working independently on a private investigation. But a 2013 Associated Press investigation revealed that Levinson had been sent on a mission by CIA analysts who had no authority to run such an operation.

The family received a video in late 2010 as well as proof-of-life photographs in 2011 in which he appeared disheveled with a long beard and wearing an orange prison jumpsuit like those given to detainees at the Guantanamo Bay prison. Even then, his whereabouts and fate were not known, and the Iran government has persistently denied having any information about Levinson.

Earlier this year, a federal judge in Washington held Iran liable for his disappearance, saying the country was “in no uncertain terms” responsible for Levinson’s “hostage taking and torture.”

In November 2019, the Iranian government unexpectedly responded to a United Nations query by saying that Levinson was the subject of an “open case” in Iranian Revolutionary Court. Although the development gave the family a burst of hope, Iran clarified that the “open case” was simply an investigation into his disappearance.

The Associated Press and Reuters contributed to this report.

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