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Iran releases American held for two years in Tehran

Sunday, October 17, 2010

WASHINGTON -- Iran on Saturday set free an American businessman jailed in Tehran for more than two years on suspicion on ties to an allegedly violent opposition group.

Reza Taghavi, 71, hadn't been charged with a crime and denied knowingly supporting the organization, known as Tondar.

"He admitted to nothing and he continues to maintain his innocence," his lawyer, Pierre Prosper, said after his client's release from Tehran's Evin prison. He's not expected to return to Southern California before the middle of this week.

Iranian officials are "comfortable that he was in fact used by this organization, and comfortable that he does not pose a threat to them and that he can leave and go back to the United States," Prosper said.

Iran had accused Taghavi of passing $200 in cash to an Iranian man tied to Tondar. Taghavi, who regularly visits Iran to conduct business and see family, had received the money from a friend in California with instructions to pass the cash to an Iranian, according to Prosper.

"I didn't do anything wrong. Someone just asked me take this money to help someone," Taghavi told ABC News.

"Sometimes I feel relief, sometimes I feel angry. What happened? Two-and-a-half years for what?" he said.

His family had said he has diabetes and was in poor health, and his lawyer has asked Iran to free him on humanitarian grounds.

Prosper said Taghavi won't able to leave until this week because of conditions attached to his release. While Taghavi never was charged formally or presented with paperwork indicating a charge, Prosper said there is a case within the Iranian justice system. He plans to meet with a judge this week in hopes of getting that case dismissed.

The best way to describe the situation, he said, is that the case is suspended and Taghavi is free to leave.

"We welcome the release of Reza Taghavi from detention in Evin Prison in Iran, and are pleased that he will soon be reunited with his family. We urge Iranian authorities to extend the same consideration to Josh Fattal and Shane Bauer, and other detained Americans by resolving their cases without delay," said State Department spokesman Noel Clay.

Fattal and Bauer are two American hikers jailed in Iran since they were arrested near the Iran-Iraq border in July 2009. The Iranians released Bauer's fiancee, Sarah Shourd, a month ago.

Prosper said he and Taghavi will visit the southern Iranian city of Shiraz, site of an April 2008 bombing at a mosque that killed 14 people. Iranian authorities blame the group that Taghavi is suspected of being involved with, and told Taghavi to meet with victims of the attack.

"He feels aggrieved. He feels used" by his friend back home who provided the cash, Prosper said.

Prosper had five direct meetings with Iranian officials since Taghavi was jailed. Three were in Iran, one in New York and one in Europe.

A family representative, Ric Grenell, said Taghavi planned to hold a news conference upon his return to the United States.


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