TEHRAN: Lebanese businessman Nizar Zakka left Iran, where he was detained since 2015, and flew to Beirut with Lebanon’s security chief on Tuesday, a Lebanese official told Reuters.
Lebanon’s head of general security Abbas Ibrahim told Reuters on Monday that the detainee, who has US residency, would be freed by Iran and that the two would return to Lebanon.
Iran’s judiciary has earlier approved the conditional release of Zakka, who was sentenced to 10 years in jail in 2016 on charges of spying for Washington, its news agency reported Tuesday.
“The relevant court has agreed to Nizar Zakka’s conditional release and he will be handed over to Lebanese authorities,” Mizan Online quoted judiciary spokesman Gholamhossein Esmaili as saying.
“According to the law, those who are sentenced to up to 10 years in jail, if they have served at least one third of their sentence and shown good behavior” can be released conditionally.
According to Esmaili, Lebanese President Michel Aoun requested Zakka’s release “in writing” and Iran’s Lebanese ally Hezbollah said it would be “expedient.”
“This is an absolutely judicial procedure and no political issue has been involved,” Esmaili was quoted by Tasnim news agency as saying.
A resident of the United States in his 50s, Zakka was arrested in September 2015 during a visit to Iran, where he was convicted the following July.
At the time of his arrest, Iranian state television said he was accused of “deep ties to the military and intelligence services of the United States.”
It broadcast photographs of a man in military uniform it said was of Zakka at a US base.
At the end of 2017, Iranian appeal courts upheld his 10-year jail sentence, as well as those of an American and two Iranian-Americans accused of “collaboration” with the United States.
Iran and the United States broke diplomatic ties in 1980, in the aftermath of the Islamic revolution. Relations have deteriorated sharply since US President Donald Trump took office in January 2017.