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US released Lebanon man after secret talks with Iran

Lebanese businessman Kassim Tajideen, 7 December 2018 [Twitter]
Lebanese businessman Kassim Tajideen, 7 December 2018 [Twitter]

A Lebanese man accused of financing Hezbollah was freed from jail in the United States last month as a result of indirect contacts between Tehran and Washington that are expected to yield more releases, three senior Middle East officials told Reuters.

Kassim Tajideen was released on 11 June, according to the US Federal Bureau of Prisons, and arrived in Lebanon last week. Two of the sources said his release was part of the same track that last year yielded the release of Nizar Zakka, a Lebanese businessman with US permanent residency, from Iran, and Sam Goodwin, a US citizen, from Syria.

Tajideen was released due to health concerns and reports that the release was part of a backroom deal were false, a Department of State spokesperson said.

Tajideen’s lawyer, Chibli Mallat, also denied that the release had anything to do with the release of other prisoners. “It was a purely judicial operation,” he said.

In 2018, the 65-year-old pleaded guilty to charges associated with violating US sanctions imposed on him and was sentenced to five years in prison and fined $50 million.

In 2009, the United States designated Tajideen as an important financial supporter of Hezbollah, which is classified as a terrorist group by Washington. He was extradited to the United States after being arrested in Morocco in 2017.

Tajideen has always denied supporting Hezbollah and disputed his designation as a terrorist financier, said Mallat.

A judge ordered Tajideen’s release on 27 May pending a 14-day quarantine on the basis of a motion submitted by his lawyers arguing that he should be freed due to the risks of COVID-19 in jail, Mallat said. He was being held in Maryland.

The reasons for his release are under seal in the United States.

The US government had opposed the release but would abide by the court’s decision, said the State Department spokesperson.

“The fact that he was released early due to health concerns and removed from the United States does not diminish the severity of his crime,” the spokesperson said in emailed responses to Reuters.

READ: Fakhoury associate and SLA member assassinated in southern Lebanon

The sources – a senior official in the Middle East, a senior Lebanese official, and a regional diplomat – said the release was the result of “indirect understandings” between Tehran and Washington.

“The release of Tajideen comes within a long path of exchange operations that will happen later on a wide level. There are still those who will be released by the two sides. This operation will continue,” the Middle Eastern official said.

The senior Lebanese official said the process had been going on in complete secrecy and had started with the handing over of Goodwin and other foreigners held by Syria, whose government is allied to Iran and Hezbollah.

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