American freed in Iran says he is innocent

Reza Taghavi
Iranian-American businessman Reza Taghavi, 71, speaks at this home a day after he was released from Evin prison in Tehran on Sunday. Taghavi said he spent more than two years in a Tehran prison despite being innocent — simply for handing over $200 in cash to a man in Iran that an acquaintance in the United States had given him. Vahid Salemi / AP
/ Source: The Associated Press

An Iranian-American businessman released after spending more than two years in a Tehran prison on suspicion of ties to a violent opposition group said Sunday he was innocent and had been jailed for giving a man in Iran $200 that an acquaintance in the United States had given him.

Reza Taghavi, 71, spoke a day after Iranian authorities released him from Evin prison, where he spent the past 29 months for handing over the cash to a man linked to a militant organization. The group, known as Tondar, was implicated in a 2008 bombing of a mosque in the city of Shiraz that killed 14 people.

Taghavi, who has not been charged, denies knowingly supporting the organization. He told AP Television News that he "brought the money here without knowing anything about it."

"After a month, I was arrested for that because those people were the terrorists who bombed the mosque," he added.

Taghavi, who regularly visits Iran to conduct business and see family, had received the money in California with instructions to pass the cash to an Iranian, according to his lawyer, Pierre Prosper.

On Saturday, Prosper told The Associated Press that Taghavi "admitted to nothing and he continues to maintain his innocence."

Iranian officials are "comfortable that he was in fact used by this organization, and comfortable that he does not pose a threat to them and that he can leave and go back to the United States," Prosper said.

Iran has repeatedly accused the U.S. and Britain of backing militants and ethnic opposition groups to destabilize the Tehran government. Both countries have denied the accusations. In 2009, Iran hanged three men convicted of a role in the bombing.

Taghavi said prison authorities at Evin did not mistreat him and "didn't do anything wrong to me."

"They were kind to me, especially as I am old, and you know, they were watching carefully with me," he said.

Taghavi is to travel later Sunday to Shiraz — a trip apparently set as a condition for his release — and talk with the victims of the bombing. He is expected to return to California later in the week. Hours after his release, none of Tehran media, websites or officials carried reports about him or commented on his case.

His wife, Mahnaz Taghavi, was overjoyed.

"I am the happiest woman in the whole world since I got my husband back, and thank God he is healthy and I love him," she told The AP.

While Taghavi never was charged formally or presented with paperwork indicating a charge, Prosper said there is a case within the Iranian justice system. He plans to meet with a judge during the week in hopes of getting that case dismissed.

The best way to describe the situation, the lawyer said Saturday, is that the case is suspended and Taghavi is free to leave.

"He feels aggrieved. He feels used" by his friend back home who provided the cash, said Prosper, who had five direct meetings with Iranian officials since Taghavi was jailed. Three were in Iran, one in New York and one in Europe.

In Washington, State Department spokesman Noel Clay said Saturday the United States welcomes the "release of Reza Taghavi from detention in Evin Prison in Iran, and are pleased that he will soon be reunited with his family."

"We urge Iranian authorities to extend the same consideration to Josh Fattal and Shane Bauer, and other detained Americans by resolving their cases without delay," Clay said.

Fattal and Bauer are two American hikers jailed in Iran since they were arrested near the Iran-Iraq border in July 2009. The Iranians released Bauer's fiancee, Sarah Shourd, a month ago.


AP's National Security Writer Anne Gearan contributed to this report from Washington.