Detained Lebanese national Nizar Zakka leaves Iran for Beirut

Detained Lebanese national Nizar Zakka leaves Iran for Beirut

A Lebanese businessman detained in Tehran since 2015 on charges of collaborating against Iran arrived in Beirut on Tuesday, after his government secured his release.

A report Monday on state TV's website mirrored a report earlier carried by Iran's semi-official Fars news agency about Zakka, who was arrested in September 2015 while trying to fly out of Tehran.

In the statement published on Iran's Mizan News Agency on Tuesday, Iran judiciary spokesperson Gholam Hussein Esmaeili said Zakka's release was in line with Iran's Constitution, which allows for the conditional release of prisoners sentenced up to 10 years, if they had served at least a third of the sentence and shown good behaviour. There was no immediate comment from USA authorities on his release.

Zakka, who also holds US residency and was sentenced in 2016 to 10 years in prison and a $4.2 million fine for "collaborating against the state". But U.S. -Iranian tensions have risen since Washington pulled out of the nuclear pact in 2018.

Nizar Zakka, who has US residency, flew to Beirut with Lebanon's security chief Abbas Ibrahim, the official told Reuters.

Although Iran has recently portrayed Zakka's case as a matter between Iran and Lebanon, Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif in 2016 said it was a problem mainly between Tehran and Washington.

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Lebanese media reported that Zakka had been pardoned at the request of Lebanon's President, Michel Aoun.

The statement claimed that Zakka, who graduated from the Riverside Military Academy of Gainesville in Georgia, had "deep links" with United States military and intelligence agencies.

Zakka vanished in Iran in 2015 after attending a conference there.

Zakka has been imprisoned in Iran since 2015. Both the Congress and the Senate passed resolutions in 2017 calling for the unconditional release of U.S. citizens and residents detained in Iran, including the Lebanese national.

Zakka is one of several prisoners with either dual nationality or ties to the West held in Iran. His release comes as tensions between Iran and the USA remain high after President Donald Trump withdrew America from Tehran's nuclear deal with world powers.

A top Lebanese security official is in Tehran to secure Zakka's release, which has been anticipated.

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