As soon as held in Iranian jail, ex-Marine fights espionage claims

WASHINGTON (AP) — After Amir Hekmati was launched from Iranian custody in a 2016 deal trumpeted as a diplomatic breakthrough, he was declared eligible for $20 million in compensation from a particular U.S. authorities fund.

However payday by no means arrived, leaving Hekmati to surprise why.

The reply has lastly arrived: Newly filed court docket paperwork reviewed by The Related Press reveal FBI suspicions that he traveled to Iran to promote categorised secrets and techniques — not, as he says, to go to his grandmother. Hekmati vigorously disputes the allegations, has by no means confronted legal expenses and is difficult a particular grasp’s conclusion that he lied about his go to to Iran and is subsequently not entitled to the cash.

The FBI investigation helps clarify the federal government’s refusal for greater than two years to pay Hekmati and muddies the narrative round a U.S. citizen, Marine and Iraq battle veteran whose launch was championed on the U.S. authorities’s highest ranges, together with by Joe Biden, then the vice chairman, and John Kerry, then the secretary of state. The paperwork supply radically conflicting accounts of Hekmati’s objective in visiting Iran and element the simmering, behind-the-scenes dispute over whether or not he’s entitled to entry a fund that compensates victims of worldwide terrorism.

Hekmati mentioned in a sworn assertion that allegations he sought to promote out to Iran are ridiculous and offensive. His attorneys say the federal government’s suspicions, detailed in FBI reviews and and letters from the fund’s particular grasp denying funds, are groundless and based mostly on rumour.

“On this case, the U.S. authorities ought to put up or shut up,” mentioned Scott Gilbert, a lawyer for Hekmati. “If the federal government believes they’ve a case, indict Amir. Attempt Amir. However you, the U.S. authorities, will not do this as a result of you may’t do this. You do not have enough factual proof to do this.”

Gilbert declined to make Hemkati out there for an interview whereas Hekmati’s lawsuit in search of compensation is pending.

The FBI and Justice Division declined to remark, however particulars from the investigation emerge in lots of of pages of paperwork filed within the case.

The paperwork present the FBI opened an espionage investigation into Hekmati way back to 2011, the identical yr he was detained in Iran on suspicion he was spying for the CIA.

Hekmati, who was raised in Michigan and served as an infantryman and interpreter in Iraq earlier than being honorably discharged from the Marines in 2005, says he went to Iran to go to an ailing grandmother after a short, unsatisfying stint as a Protection Division contractor conducting intelligence evaluation in Afghanistan.

However the FBI concluded that he went there intent on promoting Iran categorised data, in line with an unsigned five-page abstract of their investigation.

The evaluation is predicated partly on accounts from 4 unbiased however unnamed witnesses who say Hekmati approached Iranian officers providing categorised data, in addition to the actual fact he abruptly resigned his contracting place earlier than his contract was up and left for Iran with out telling mates and colleagues, the FBI says. An FBI pc forensics search concluded that whereas in Afghanistan, he accessed lots of of categorised paperwork on Iran that brokers consider had been exterior the scope of his job obligations, the paperwork say.

Hekmati, the son of Iranian immigrants, says he researched Iran overtly to domesticate anexpertise on Iranian affect in Afghanistan. “Everybody knew” concerning the work he was doing, he mentioned at a listening to final yr, and supervisors did not place restrictions. He says he’d already give up his job when he left for Iran and subsequently wasn’t obligated to inform colleagues of his journey. At no level in Iran, he mentioned, did he meet with any Iranian officers or tried to promote authorities secrets and techniques.

Hekmati’s attorneys say the FBI’s suspicions are unattainable to sq. with the remedy he endured in jail, which they are saying included torture and being compelled to report a coerced however bogus confession. Had been he really spying for Iran, Gilbert mentioned, “You’d assume the man would have been a useful asset, they really would have needed to do one thing with him” moderately than abuse him.

He was initially sentenced to life, however the punishment was reduce to 10 years.

Hekmati loved assist from senior-level officers, together with Kerry, who demanded his launch, and Biden, who met together with his household in Michigan. In January 2016, after four-and-a-half years behind bars, he was freed with a number of different Americans, together with Washington Publish journalist Jason Rezaian, because the Obama administration entered its closing yr longing for indicators of bettering relations after the controversial nuclear take care of Iran.

Months later, Hekmati sued Iran over his torture. A federal choose in Washington entered a $63.5 million default judgment after Iran did not contest the claims. Hekmati subsequently utilized to gather by way of a Justice Division-run fund for terror victims financed by property seized from U.S. adversaries. He was awarded the statutory most of $20 million, his attorneys say.

The fund’s particular grasp then was Kenneth Feinberg, famend for overseeing funds to victims of the Sept. 11 assaults. In December 2018, he approved an preliminary cost of greater than $839,000.

However for months, no cash got here. After Hekmati’s attorneys warned they’d must sue, the Justice Division cryptically indicated it was in search of a reconsideration of the award.

In January 2020, Feinberg formally revoked Hekmati’s eligibility for the fund, saying his software contained errors and omissions and that data from the Justice Division supported the conclusion that Hekmati visited Iran with the intent of promoting categorised data.

A second letter final December did not repeat that exact allegation, however mentioned Hekmati had given “evasive, false and inconsistent statements” throughout three FBI interviews, did not “credibly refute” that many of the categorised data he accessed associated to Iran and “traveled to Iran for major functions apart from to go to his household.”

Feinberg declined to remark, saying his determination “speaks for itself.”

The correspondence had been secret till January when Hekmati’s attorneys filed it within the Courtroom of Federal Claims in Washington as a part of its lawsuit. A whole lot of further pages of paperwork have since been filed outlining the investigation.

The paperwork embrace summaries of FBI interviews from 2016 in Germany, on Hekmati’s manner house from Iran, and in Michigan that present FBI brokers grilling him with growing suspicion.

One abstract says Hekmati refused to reply when requested if he’d ever accessed categorised data on Iran and replied the FBI may determine it out itself. In a follow-up interview, an agent confronted Hekmati with the FBI’s evaluation that he went to Afghanistan to acquire categorised data that he may promote to Iran. After a back-and-forth, Hekmati informed the FBI that he accessed the fabric to grow to be a subject professional on the subject.

Hekmati and his attorneys state the FBI interviews should not be thought-about credible partially as a result of he was affected by the results of post-traumatic stress on the time.

The standing of any investigation is unclear, as are Hekmati’s prospects of ever receiving cost. However Gilbert, Hekmati’s lawyer, says he hopes the choice will get a contemporary look by the brand new Justice Division.

“I’m hopeful that we’ll see the suitable consequence right here and be capable to put this saga to mattress.”

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Related Press author Michael Balsamo and Nathan Ellgren contributed to this report.

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