Berlin Denies Trade-Off With Iran
Israel Trying to Block Germany's Release of Iranian Assassin
Despite a personal appeal from Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert to Angela Merkel, an Iranian man serving a life prison sentence in Germany will be turned over to Iran in December. Government officials deny it was a quid pro quo for a German released in March.
Israel is using all possible means -- including a personal appeal from its prime minister to German Chancellor Angela Merkel -- to prevent Germany from releasing Iranian terrorist Kazem Darabi, imprisoned for the 1992 assassination of four Iranian opposition figures in a Berlin restaurant. The Israelis still hope to use the man's imprisonment as leverage in learning about Israeli fighter pilot Ron Arad, who was shot down in Lebanon in 1986.
Darabi and Lebanese citizen Abbas Rhayel are to be released in December. They were given life sentences in 1997 for the killings in a Greek restaurant in Berlin called "Mykonos." Frank Wallenta, spokesman for the Federal Prosecutor's Office, said prisoners serving life sentences may be released early if they have served 15 years and they are deported to another country.
Both men had spent five years in pre-trial custody by the time of their convictions, and those years count toward their overall time served.
But German officials gave no further explanation for the release. There has been speculation in the German media that men's freedom belongs to a deal for the
release of a German tourist arrested in November 2005 and held in Iran for 16 months on suspicion of illegally entering Iranian waters. Donald Klein was released in March. At a news conference following his release, he told reporters: "I was a hostage who was to be exchanged."
The government has denied claims of a trade-off. "There is no such arrangement," Foreign Ministry spokesman Martin Jaeger told reporters Friday.
The Israelis were hoping Germany would hold on to Darabi to use him as leverage in learning the fate of Arad, who was shot down over Lebanon in 1986. It suspects Iran or its ally there, Hezbollah, of knowing the pilot's fate. In 2004, Germany offered to trade Darabi for information about Arad, but Hezbollah did not agree to the deal.
Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert telephoned German Chancellor Angela Merkel last week to ask her to block the men's deportation. She reportedly explained that the issue was being handled by the country's judiciary and not the executive branch.
Arad's daughter is expected to make another appeal to block the release during a meeting with German's Chief Federal Prosecutor Monika Harms scheduled for Tuesday.
Prosecutors in the so called "Mykonos trial" caused a diplomatic uproar when they implicated Iran's supreme religious leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and President Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani as having known of and approved the killings. Iran denied the charges, and both countries temporarily withdrew their ambassadors.