LOS ANGELES (AP) — A California man who spent more than two years in an Iranian prison on allegations of passing money to a rebel group has returned to his California home.
Reza Taghavi, 71, arrived at Los Angeles International Airport late Thursday where he was greeted by dozens of friends and relatives who chanted “We love you” as they burst into tears.
In halting English, he told reporters: “My name is Reza Taghavi, I’ve been in Iran in jail for 29 months. Now I’m glad that I’m back to the United States in my home now.”
“I’m glad that I’m here and hope everything can be all right from now on,” he said.
Taghavi, a retired Orange County businessman who regularly visits his native Iran, was jailed on allegations that he passed $200 to someone suspected of links to a rebel group called Tondar. Tondar is suspected of a 2008 mosque bombing that killed 14 people in the southern city of Shiraz.
Taghavi was never charged and denies knowingly supporting the faction. He said he was doing a favor for an acquaintance in Los Angeles who asked him to pass the money to someone in Tehran.
Former U.S. diplomat Pierre Prosper, who worked for Taghavi’s release and accompanied him on the flight home from Tehran, told The Associated Press that although Iran allowed Taghavi to leave, it did not dismiss his case outright. He said he will work to clear the case so that Taghavi can be allowed to return to Iran to visit his family.
Iran appears hopeful it can use Taghavi’s release to draw attention to the threat of violence and terrorism by opponents of the clerical regime.
Taghavi agreed to discuss the group Tondar and the wrong he claims the group did to him as a condition of his release.
Prosper hinted that Taghavi may sue someone from the group, but he would not elaborate.
“Mr. Taghavi clearly feels cheated, and feels essentially violated by this group,” Prosper said. “He spent 2 1/2 years years in jail, he lost 2 1/2 years of his life.”
Exhausted from a long journey home, Taghavi declined to immediately discuss his ordeal in details. Prosper said Taghavi was initially put in solitary confinement and prohibited from communicating with his family. He said his client was later placed with the general inmate population where he was “treated well.”
Taghavi said the love and support of his son and daughter kept him going while his case was in limbo.
“I was thinking all the time about them,” Reza said as his children sat behind him. “I knew they (were) talking to me to be strong, we want you here, we want you here. They gave me the strength.”
Prosper, a former ambassador for war crimes in the Bush administration, has no current government connection. He said he traveled to Iran three times and spent more than 75 hours negotiating with Iranian officials.
Prosper said keeping Taghavi’s case quiet to give “the most flexibility and most likelihood of success.”
Taghavi’s release comes as Iran is under international sanctions over its nuclear program. The U.S. and allies believe Iran could use its nuclear labs to eventually produce weapons-grade material, while Iran claims it only wants reactors to produce energy.
It is not clear whether Iran was trying to use Taghavi’s case for any larger purpose, such as a bargaining chip with the United States or a means to open back-channel discussions that might one day help improve relations.
Taghavi’s lengthy imprisonment was much less known than the case of three American hikers who were detained along Iran’s border with Iraq last year and accused of spying.
One member of the trio, Sarah Shourd, was recently released on $500,000 and returned to the U.S. Her companions, Josh Fattal and Shane Bauer, remain jailed in Iran and could face trial on espionage charges.
Shourd and families of the two men deny any crime was committed and contend that if the trio did cross the border into Iran, it was an accident.
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