x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 23 January 2018

'Abducted' Iranian arrives home to allegations he was paid $5m

Shahram Amiri, who vanished from Saudi Arabia in June 2009, denied upon his arrival in Tehran today that he was a nuclear scientist.

An Iranian who claimed he was "abducted" by US spies last year denied upon his arrival in Tehran today, that he was a nuclear scientist, as the Washington Post claimed he was paid more than $5 million by the CIA to provide intelligence on Iran's nuclear program, the newspaper reported today. Shahram Amiri, who vanished from Saudi Arabia in June 2009 while on a pilgrimage, arrived in Tehran on Thursday after surfacing in Iran's Interest Section in Washington two days ago. Immediately after his arrival he told reporters that he was just a "simple researcher," rebutting earlier claims by Iranian officials that he was a nuclear scientist.

"I had nothing to do with Natanz and Fordo sites," Amiri said referring to Iran's two uranium enrichment plants. "It was a tool the US government brought up for political pressure. I have done no research on nuclear. I am a simple researcher who works in a university, which is open to all and there is no secret work happening there." The interrogators "threatened me to make me cooperate with the CIA," he said early today. "Otherwise they said they will transfer me to secret prisons in the Zionist regime and there will be no trace of me left."

However, the Washington Post , quoting unnamed officials, said he had been paid $5m (Dh18m) for the information he had provided. Mr Amiri "is not obligated to return the money but might be unable to access it after breaking off what US officials described as significant cooperation with the CIA and abruptly returning to Iran," the Post report said. It quoted officials as saying he might have left the US "out of concern that the Tehran government would harm his family." "Anything he got [financially] is now beyond his reach, thanks to the financial sanctions on Iran," an unnamed official told the newspaper. "He's gone, but his money's not. We have his information, and the Iranians have him."

Mr Amiri's denial is the latest twist to a bizarre saga that has baffled the world media for months and which began with his mysterious disappearance, followed by conflicting video footages of a man claiming to be Amiri and talking of being abducted. Today Mr Amiri said during the initial two months of his captivity he was put through "harshest mental and physical torture." He said he was questioned by Israelis during his captivity. He said his kidnapping was a "psychological warfare against Iran and proving those lies that the US wanted to tell other countries about Iran."

Mr Amiri said that during his interrogations, "there were interrogators from Israel present in some sessions and it was evident that they had planned of moving me to Israel." Iranian officials claim Mr Amiri was kidnapped by the CIA, while US media has reported he defected to Washington. US officials have denied these claims. Mr Amiri told reporters that in due time he would talk and prove his point as certain issues were sensitive and could hurt national interests.

He also dismissed comments by the US Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton, that he had freely come to the US and was free to go whenever he wanted. "I am really amazed by the US foreign minister who says I was free there and went there freely. I was not free there and I was under the control of armed people of the intelligence service," he said. Mrs Clinton said on Tuesday that there was nothing to stop Mr Amiri from leaving after he had surfaced in Washington. "He's free to go. He was free to come. These decisions are his alone to make," she said.

Mr Amiri said US officials had even offered him $50m if he changed his mind and decided to stay in the US. They also assured to take his family out of Iran, he said, but added that during his captivity there were "threats issued against my family". Before jetting out of Washington, Mr Amiri gave an interview to Iranian state televisions that was broadcast Wednesday in which he said he had been abducted at gunpoint in Saudi Arabia. He said he had been approached by besuited Farsi-speaking men in a car in the Saudi city of Medina and offered a ride to the mosque.

"As I opened the door, one of the passengers pulled out a gun and told me to be quiet. They gave me an injection and when I came around I was in a big plane. I was blindfolded. It was likely a military plane," he said. The speculation over Mr Amiri's mysterious disappearance was further compounded when a man claiming to be him was shown in two different video footages on June 7, -one saying he was kidnapped by U.S. agents and the other that he was studying in Tucson, Arizona. These videos were followed by a third one a few weeks later in which the man said he had escaped from the custody of US spies in Virginia.

US officials consistently denied Mr Amiri's kidnapping but on Tuesday a White House spokesman confirmed that Washington had been in touch with him. "The United States government has maintained contact with him," he said, adding that Amiri "has been here for some time, I'm not going to specify for how long." An Iranian foreign ministry spokesman, Hassan Ghashghavi, meanwhile denied that Mr Amiri's return would lead to a prisoner swap with the US.

"Amiri's freedom has nothing to do with the [exchange of] Americans," he said referring to three American hikers arrested in Iran when they strayed into the country last year. * AFP/AP