DUBAI, United Arab Emirates—Iran on Nov. 10 said an open Revolutionary Court case involving an ex-FBI agent who disappeared there in 2007 on an unauthorized CIA mission “was a missing person” filing, not a sign that the man was being prosecuted.
Foreign Ministry spokesman Abbas Mousavi’s comments come as a new Iranian acknowledgment of the case involving Robert Levinson renewed questions about his disappearance.
The admission comes amid a renewed push by the Trump administration to find him.
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo announced on Nov. 4 that the administration is offering $20 million for information on Levinson in addition to the $5 million offered earlier by the FBI.
Levinson disappeared from Iran’s Kish Island on March 9, 2007.
The Levinson family told The Washington Post they’ve been encouraged by the actions taken by the Trump administration after the Obama administration “showed little evidence of working to free Levinson.”
“We’re encouraged,” a family member told the Post. “This administration is engaged and completely committed to bringing my dad home.”
Speaking to journalists, Mousavi said Levinson “has no judicial or criminal case in any Islamic Republic of Iran court whatsoever.”
“It is normal that a case is opened like it’s done for any missing people anywhere in Iran,” Mousavi said.
However, Iran only acknowledged its Revolutionary Court had an open case on Levinson in a filing to the United Nations. The Associated Press obtained a copy of a U.N. report on the acknowledgment on Nov. 9.
Iran’s Revolutionary Court typically handles espionage cases and others involving smuggling, blasphemy, and attempts to overthrow its Islamic government. Westerners and Iranian dual nationals with ties to the West often find themselves tried and convicted in closed-door trials in these courts, only later to be used as bargaining chips in negotiations.
For years, U.S. officials would only say that Levinson, a meticulous FBI investigator credited with busting Russian and Italian mobsters, was working for a private firm on his trip.
In December 2013, the AP revealed Levinson, in fact, had been on a mission for CIA analysts who had no authority to run spy operations. Levinson’s family had received a $2.5 million annuity from the CIA in order to stop a lawsuit revealing details of his work, while the agency forced out three veteran analysts and disciplined seven others.
Since his disappearance, the only photos and video of Levinson emerged in 2010 and 2011. He appeared gaunt and bearded with long hair and was wearing an orange jumpsuit similar to those worn by detainees at the U.S. prison at Guantanamo Bay.
Iran for years has offered contradictory statements about Levinson. His family is now suing Iran in U.S. federal court, alleging the Iranian government kidnapped him.
A senior State Department official said the United States hadn’t been informed of any change in that position. However, the official, speaking on condition of anonymity due to the sensitivity of the case, said the United States had reached out “through intermediaries” to Iran to see if the statement represented a change in Iran’s stance. The official said there hadn’t yet been a response to the inquiry.
The official wouldn’t say who the intermediaries are, but U.S. interests in Iran are handled by Switzerland. Successive U.S. administrations have used the Swiss as their main interlocutor with Iranian authorities in cases in which Americans have gone missing or been detained in Iran.
Brian Hook, the U.S. special envoy for Iran, has raised Levinson’s case, as well as those of other Americans, with Iranian officials in the past. Robert O’Brien, before becoming Trump’s national security adviser, had made Levinson’s case a priority when he served as the special representative for hostage affairs.