Iran frees Iranian-American businessman Reza Taghavi

Iran released Orange Country businessman Reza Taghavi on Saturday after holding him in prison for two and a half years for bringing money to Iranian rebel group, Tondar.

In this television still, Reza Taghavi and his wife Mahnaz speak with the Associated Press Sunday, in Tehran. The Iranian-American businessman says he spent 29 months in a Tehran prison despite being innocent simply for handing over $200 to a man in Iran that an acquaintance in the United States had given him.

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Iran released on Saturday an Iranian-American prisoner held for two and a half years (without being charged) for bringing money to an Iranian rebel group that claimed responsibility for a deadly 2008 mosque bombing in Iran.

The freed prisoner, Orange Country businessman Reza Taghavi, says he transported the $200 to them unwittingly.

Unlike the case of the three American hikers held for over a year in the same Tehran prison – one of which, Sarah Shourd, was released in September – Mr. Taghavi’s family chose to avoid widespread publicity.

They quietly hired former Bush administration official Pierre Prosper and his Los Angeles firm ArentFox to negotiate his release, the Wall Street Journal reports. The negotiations for his release took place over 14 months in multiple countries, including meetings in Tehran.

Taghavi’s 2008 arrest was part of a spate of arrests of Iranian-Americans accused of trying to act against the Islamic Republic, the Los Angeles Times notes.

A visit to the site of the bombing

As a condition of Taghavi's release, Iran is taking him to the southern city of Shiraz to visit the site of the 2008 bombing that killed 14, according to the Associated Press.

Taghavi says he brought the $200 as a favor to another Iranian-American, believing it was for a needy family, and says he is not part of the anti-Iran group, Tondar, the Wall Street Journal reports:

Tondar runs its media operations in Los Angeles – often criticizing the Iranian government and calling for an end to Islamic rule. Tondar claimed responsibility for the 2008 bombing on a website, but said it was an attack on a military installation, not a mosque.

Iman Afar, a representative of Tondar in Los Angeles told the Wall Street Journal in an interview earlier this year that the Los Angeles arm of Tondar is not responsible for funding or planning attacks. Mr. Afar said the Los Angeles group runs web-based television and radio programming to publicize Tondar.

In Iran, Taghavi now says that he may sue Afar or the entire group and that the US should bring the group to justice, Iran’s Press TV reports.

Viewing '24' from prison

In an exclusive interview in Tehran with ABC News upon leaving prison, Taghavi said that such a long imprisonment is especially hard for someone at his age: “Sometimes I feel relief, sometimes, I feel angry. What happened? 2 ½ years for what?" he said. He shared a 16-bed cell with 33 inmates and says he looked forward to Wednesdays, when “24” was shown in the jail.

"It was very hard, every day, counting the days, and thinking it's going to be soon,” he told ABC News. “I was told it's going to be next week, nothing happens. It's going to be next week, nothing happens."

While Ms. Shourd was released on humanitarian grounds over health concerns, ABC News adds that the future looks grimmer for her prison mates and fellow hikers Josh Fattal and Shane Bauer.

The trio says they unknowingly crossed into Iranian territory while hiking in Iraq, and Iran has accused them of espionage.

Iranian sources have told ABC that the two men will likely go to trial, which will extend their imprisonment at least by several more months. Monday is their 444th day in jail, ABC News notes, the same time the US Embassy hostages were kept in Iran from 1979 to 1981.

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