Iran TerrorismBehind The Scenes Of Iran's Prisoner-Swap Deal With Belgium

Behind The Scenes Of Iran’s Prisoner-Swap Deal With Belgium


“Is Olivier Vandecasteele [a Belgian citizen kidnapped by the Iranian regime] a victim of a deal that might have failed? While Olivier Vandecasteele remains in detention in Iran, new information about this case has been leaked out”, according to a May 9 report by the Belgium DH newspaper.

According to a piece by La Libre published on May 8, “Obtained documents reveal behind the scenes of the Assadollah Assadi case; Olivier Vandecasteele was used as a bargaining chip. [This document] confirms the main role played by the Iranian Ministry of Intelligence and explains how Belgium and Iran were negotiating about their prisoner transfer agreement before the capture of Olivier Vandecasteele in Tehran.” Assadollah Assadi, a Vienna-based Iranian diplomat, was arrested for attempting to carry out a terrorist attack using a powerful bomb that he transferred in a diplomatic package from Tehran to Vienna and intended to use it to target a large rally of Iranians in Paris on 30 June 2018. He was sentenced to 20 years in prison after his arrest and trial in a Belgian court.

Olivier Vandecasteele
Olivier Vandecasteele

Assadi did not attend any of the court sessions, counting on “behind the scenes” deals between Tehran and Brussels. Of course, the newly released documents show that his hope was not baseless. Immediately after the verdict, the Iranian regime accelerated its overt and covert efforts. On 24 February 2022, Iranian regime agents abducted Vandecasteele in Iran in order to swap for Assadi.

On 19 September 2022, Mrs. Maryam Rajavi, President-elect of the Iranian opposition coalition National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI), said in a message to an Iranian Resistance rally in Belgium: “It has been almost three months since you stopped the return of [Tehran’s] diplomat-terrorist bomber to his bosses. You have blocked the path for the mullahs who wanted to establish their terrorism command headquarters in the heart of Europe with this law.”  This is in reference to a legislation passed by the Belgian Parliament to pave the path for a prisoner exchange with the Iranian regime that would involve Assadi’s return to Tehran.

Nearly eight months after the initial Belgian court hearing, and coinciding with the publication of confidential documents from the regime’s Foreign Ministry, the Belgian Het Laatste Nieuws newspaper reported on May 8: “Belgium and Iran first reached an agreement on the exchange of prisoners, and then a few months later, Olivier Vandecasteele was arrested as a bargaining chip”.

Detailing the documents, the Het Laatste Nieuws piece continues: “These documents show that the first draft of the agreement between Iran and Belgium was written in Tehran on April 26, 2021.  The first signatures of the representatives of both ministries were on May 31, 2021, … The important and noteworthy point is that the Belgian aid worker Olivier Vandecasteele was still a free man at that time. He was arrested in Iran on February 24, 2022, and was sentenced to 40 years in prison and 74 lashes in a mock trial.”

The NCRI issued a statement on January 10, 2023, referring to Tehran’s well-known method of state terrorism. “The threat of flogging and 40 years of imprisonment is a dirty and inhuman judicial blackmail by the mullahs,” the NCRI statement reads in part.

Meanwhile, Rouydad 24, a government-linked website in Iran, published a piece on April 28 confirming the leaked documents and reports related to Assadollah Assadi. “This report states that the issue of Assadollah Assadi falls within the duties and responsibilities of the Ministry of Intelligence, and all related movements and activities have been managed and directed by the Ministry of Intelligence after his arrest…”.

All evidence shows that Tehran was preparing to return its diplomat-terrorist to Iran within 48 hours. However, the NCRI-led campaign, in withstanding Tehran’s repression and terrorism for four decades, was able to prevent the implementation of this appeasement-riddled deal. In this regard, Belgian MP Quen Metso said in a rally held in front of the Belgian Parliament on July 19, 2022: “By raising your voice, you changed the scene because you are a nation.”


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