Iran denies claim former FBI agent died in custody

Iran denies claim former FBI agent died in custody

Iran denies claim former FBI agent died in custody

The family of Robert Levinson, a former Federal Bureau of Investigation agent who disappeared 13 years ago after travelling to an island controlled by Iran, says they believe he died in custody. "... I don't accept that he's dead..."

President Donald Trump expressed his sympathies to the family when asked about the statement at the White House coronavirus briefing, but he said the US did not yet have confirmation that Levinson is dead.

"They haven't told us he's dead".

The images showed Mr Levinson, who was 58 when he went missing, with a long grey beard and wearing an orange prison jumpsuit, similar to those worn by United States detainees in Guantanamo Bay. While they did not say when he died, his family said that it had happened prior to the global coronavirus pandemic.

In a statement, the Levinson family - all tireless advocates including his daughter Sarah Moriarty, who testified in Congress again last month to press lawmakers to help bring him home - said they had grudgingly heard the news they've dreaded for 13 years. His grandchildren will never meet him.

Trump called Levinson "a gentleman" and "outstanding".

"It's not looking good, he wasn't well for years in Iran, it's not looking promising".

At a White House briefing on the coronavirus, Trump appeared to equivocate on the accuracy of the family's statement, saying that Iranian officials had not told the US that Levinson was dead and that "I won't accept that he's dead". The family of Robert Levinson filed a lawsuit in 2017, against Iran.

The family blamed the "cruel, heartless actions of the Iranian regime " for his death and said they had no idea when or if his body would be returned, calling that uncertainty "the very definition of cruelty".

"They haven't told us that he's dead, but a lot of people are thinking that that is the case", he said.

Trump, who as a candidate had accused his predecessor Barack Obama of not doing enough for Levinson in negotiations with Iran, noted that the former agent had longstanding health problems. At the time, the US government maintained that he was there on his own. This was significant given Tehran's statement to the United Nations about a judicial case against him, which they later claimed was not an admission they held him.

Lawyer David McGee had then said Levinson was trying to trace money laundered through Iranian exiles living in Toronto.

Shortly afterward, Levinson disappeared, but Iran repeatedly denied capturing him or knowing of his whereabouts.

Months after he disappeared, US government sources acknowledged that before traveling to Kish Island, Levinson had maintained an unorthodox contractual relationship with the analytical branch of the Central Intelligence Agency.

Levinson's family 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.

In a tweet, Richard Grenell, the acting director of national intelligence, said he mourns for the Levinsons.

However, when he disappeared, an Iranian government-linked media outlet broadcast a story saying he was "in the hands of Iranian security forces".

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