Ali Vakili Rad, the Iranian agent who spent 19 years in a French jail for the 1991 assassination of Shapour Bakhtiar, a former Iranian PM during the Shah’s era, arrived in Tehran on Tuesday, hours after a French court ordered his release.
REUTERS - An Iranian man serving a life sentence in France for the 1991 murder of Shahpour Bakhtiar, Iran’s last prime minister under the shah, arrived in Tehran on Tuesday night, news agencies reported.
A French court ordered the release of Ali Vakili Rad earlier in the day, just two days after Iran freed French teaching assistant Clotilde Reiss, who was held on charges of spying during anti-government protests in Tehran last year.
Both countries have denied the two moves were connected, but France’s opposition Socialists are unconvinced and have urged Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner to answer questions from parliamentarians about the teacher’s release.
“Vakili Rad returned to Iran on Tuesday night and was greeted by foreign ministry official Hassan Qashqavi,” the semi-official Fars news agency reported.
He was convicted in 1994 of killing Bakhtiar, a Sorbonne graduate and veteran of the French resistance who had fled to France after Iran’s 1979 Islamic revolution and led an exiled opposition group from Paris.
Less than three hours after the court order was issued, Vakili Rad, 51, left a prison near Paris under heavy police escort.
“I have been through hell and now I am happy to have found heaven,” Fars quoted Vakili Rad as saying at a Tehran airport.
His lawyer, Sorin Margulis, called his release “a godsend” and added “But this cannot be interpreted as an exchange.”
Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad suggested a prisoner swap last year if France wanted Reiss to be freed.
France has released prisoners in Iran-related cases in the past, including a Lebanese man convicted of trying to assassinate Bakhtiar in Paris in 1980.
Two weeks ago, France freed an Iranian engineer who Washington wanted to extradite on charges of illegally buying electronic equipment from U.S. firms for military use.
Vakili Rad was one of three people who assassinated Bakhtiar, whose secretary also died in the knife attack at the exiled leader’s heavily guarded home in a western Paris suburb.
The other two assailants escaped but Vakili Rad was arrested in neighbouring Switzerland and extradited.
It was widely suspected the killers were supporters of the Islamic Republic’s founder, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini.
Reiss was accused of aiding a Western plot to topple Iran’s clerical regime after taking part in protests following the disputed re-election of Ahmadinejad, and posting photographs of the demonstrations on the internet.
A former member of the French intelligence service has said Reiss did some espionage work in Iran, but the government has categorically denied this.
Bakhtiar, a scion of Iran’s old tribal nobility, was educated in Lebanon and France and fought in the International Brigade during the Spanish Civil War.
Repeatedly imprisoned in Iran for opposing the shah, he was persuaded in late 1978 to head a civilian government to oppose the growing Islamic opposition under Khomeini.
Bakhtiar served just over a month as prime minister before Khomeini came to power and replaced him with Mehdi Bazargan.
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