Killer of ex-Iranian PM could be freed in France

Killer of ex-Iranian PM could be freed in France
# 17 May 2010 23:01 (UTC +04:00)
Baku – APA. France’s interior minister signed an expulsion order on Monday paving the way for the likely release of a man convicted of assassinating former Iranian Prime Minister Shahpour Bakhtiar, APA reports quoting “Associated Press”.
A Paris court is set to rule Tuesday on Ali Vakili Rad’s release from prison where he has been serving a life sentence since 1994 for the strangling and stabbing death of the exiled Bakhtiar, then 76, the last prime minister under pro-Western Shah Mohammed Reza Pahlavi who was toppled in the 1979 Islamic revolution.
Judges already have said they favor a conditional release as long as an expulsion order comes through. However, the final decision has been delayed twice. With the order in hand, Vakili Rad can theoretically fly directly to Iran once freed — less than two weeks after another Iranian detained in France on a U.S. warrant was allowed to return to Tehran.
Interior Minister Brice Hortefeux signed the expulsion order Monday, a source in the ministry said on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to discuss the case.
The order came just one day after Clotilde Reiss, a young French academic, who had battled charges of spying in Iran for more than 10 months, returned to France.
French authorities have denied a link between the two cases — or the case of Majid Kakavand, whom the United States wanted France to extradite for allegedly evading export controls to purchase technology over the Internet and sell to Iran’s military. A French court rejected the request May 5.
Instead, France thanked Brazilian President Luis Inacio Lula da Silva, Senegalese President Abdoulaye Wade and Syrian President Bashar Assad for their help in the case.
There had long been speculation that a deal between Paris and Tehran could win Reiss’ freedom. Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, in an interview last September with French television, hinted at an exchange of prisoners, saying: "There are several Iranians who have been in prison in France for several years" who, like Reiss, "also have families." French President Nicolas Sarkozy called any such exchange "blackmail."
Over the weekend, Iranian authorities commuted Reiss’s 10-year jail term to a fine of 3 billion rials ($300,000). Once her lawyer paid, she was freed and allowed to return home.
The Reiss case had poisoned relations between France and Iran, already tense over France’s tough stand on Iran’s nuclear program.
A special French terrorism court convicted Vakili Rad and his aide, Souroush Katibeh, of assassinating Bakhtiar. Vakili Rad was sentenced to life in prison with the possibility of seeking conditional freedom starting in June 2009. When a prisoner is released before a full sentence is completed, freedom is often conditional, forcing him or her to report to authorities regularly. However, French law allows foreigners with no ties to France to be expelled.
Vakili Rad’s lawyer, Sorin Margulis, on Monday reiterated an earlier denial that his client’s eventual freedom was part of a "barter."
However, France is no stranger to dealmaking to win freedom for its citizens trapped in the noose of terrorists or touchy geopolitics.
In 1990, France notably pardoned the man convicted of carrying out a 1980 failed attack on Bakhtiar that killed two other people. Anis Naccache, a Lebanese, and his four accomplices were expelled to Tehran. Naccache’s freedom had been demanded by Iranian-backed terrorists who set off deadly bombs around Paris in 1986.
Bakhtiar was killed at his own home in the western Paris suburb of Suresnes. Two other Iranians were convicted for logistical roles in the killings, and two other alleged killers were never caught. Prosecutors contended the assassination was a plot by Iran’s clerical regime.
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