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Plane Carrying Iran Scientist Jailed in US Has Taken off, Zarif Says

Plane Carrying Iran Scientist Jailed in US Has Taken off, Zarif Says

Tuesday, 2 June, 2020 - 06:15
Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif. (Reuters)

Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif said Tuesday that a plane had taken off from the United States carrying scientist Sirous Asgari after his apparent release from a US prison.

"Good news, a plane carrying Dr. Sirous Asgari has taken off from America. Congratulations to his wife and family," he wrote in a post on his Instagram account.

In April 2016, the materials science professor was indicted as US federal prosecutors accused him of stealing trade secrets in violation of US sanctions on Iran.

A federal judge in Ohio acquitted Asgari in November and US authorities said earlier last month that the 59-year-old Asgari, who tested positive for the novel coronavirus in April, was expected to be deported by the United States once he received medical clearance to leave.

Ken Cuccinelli, the acting deputy Homeland Security secretary, earlier told The Associated Press that the DHS had started to try to deport Asgari on Dec. 12 following his acquittal. However, he said, Iran refused to recognize him as legitimately Iranian and provide him with a valid passport until late February.

Once Asgari received the passport, DHS made several attempts to fly him back to Iran, purchasing tickets for flights on March 10, March 18, March 23, April 1 and May 1, according to Cuccinelli. Each of those flights was cancelled due to the coronavirus pandemic, he said.

Asgari’s supporters told The Guardian newspaper in April he had contracted the coronavirus while imprisoned. He had been held at Louisiana's Winn Correctional Center by US Immigration and Customs Enforcement before his deportation, they said.

Iran's deputy education minister, Hossein Salar Amoli, recently said Asgari had recovered from the virus and would be able to travel, IRNA reported.

Both Iran and the United States hold a number of each other's nationals and they have recently called for them to be released amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

Iran is battling what is the region’s deadliest outbreak of the virus, while the US has reported the highest total number of deaths worldwide from the disease.

Iran is holding at least five Americans and the US has 19 Iranians in detention, according to a list compiled by AFP based on official statements and media reports.

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