A US court has ordered the government of Iran to pay $1.45 billion to the family of FBI agent Robert Levinson, who mysteriously disappeared during a visit to the country in 2007. The judge awarded punitive damages of $1.3 billion. Levinson is believed to have been kidnapped by the Islamic Republic during a secret mission to an Iranian island.
The judgment comes after Levinson's family and the US government started believing that he died in the Iranian government's custody. However, Tehran has long been denying the accusation though officials over time and offered contradictory accounts over what happened to him after landing in Iran.
For the Family
US District Judge Timothy Kelly said in his ruling that he adopted a special expert's recommendation that Levinson's family be awarded $107 million in compensatory damages. The judge awarded punitive damages of $1.3 billion. The United States and Levinson's family believe that he died in Iran's custody.
Kelly in the ruling described the decision as "the first step in pursuit of justice." "Until now, Iran has faced no consequences for its actions," he added. Levinson, who is known as Bob by his friends and family, went missing during a trip to the Iranian island of Kish in the Gulf in March 2007.
The court also cited the case of Otto Warmbier, an American college student, who was found dead shortly after being freed from prison in North Korea in 2017. This case became the base in deciding to award huge punitive damages to Levinson's family.
According to a BBC report Iran's state media hasn't yet responded to the ruling nor has it acknowledged the award.
What Was Levinson Doing in Iran?
The US government claims that Levinson was in Iran as a private investigator on behalf of several large corporations. However, US media reports tell a different story. According to reports, Levinson was on an unauthorized mission for the CIA while he was on Kish Island. While being there, he met an American fugitive Dawud Salahuddin.
According to Salahuddin, Levinson told him that he was investigating cigarette smuggling in the Gulf region, and following that the two were detained by Iranian security forces. In 2011, Levinson's family received a set of photographs showing him in an orange jumpsuit. The then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said she believed he was being held "somewhere in south-west Asia".
However, Iran claimed that he wasn't there and denied any reports of capturing and torturing him. Last year, Iran reiterated its previous comments about the case, and said that it was trying to find out about Levinson's condition "but could not find any signs of him being alive".
The US court ruling comes amid growing tensions between the United States and Iran, with President Donald Trump creating 'maximalist' pressure on Iran's nuclear program.