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Iran frees detained Lebanese businessman Nizar Zakka

Zakka, who has US residency, was sentenced in 2016 to 10 years in prison for 'collaborating against the state'
Zakka denied the Iranian government's charges (Reuters)

Iran has released a Lebanese businessman, who is also a US permanent resident, after imprisoning him since 2015 on charges of spying and conspiring against the state.

Nizar Zakka arrived to Beirut with Lebanon's security chief Abbas Ibrahim on Tuesday before meeting with President Michel Aoun.

Zakka was detained during a visit to Tehran in 2015, where he was attending an IT conference at the invitation of the Iranian government. 

In 2016, he was sentenced to 10 years in jail for "collaborating against the state".

At a news conference in the Lebanon's Presidential Palace on Tuesday, Zakka denied the Iranian government's accusations, dismissing speculations that his release may be a part of an international deal involving the United States.

He said the push to free him "was born in Lebanon, designed in Lebanon, and today it ends in Lebanon."

Ibrahim, the security chief, also said that Zakka was freed at the request of President Aoun after a phone call with his Iranian counterpart Hassan Rouhani.

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He added that Beirut worked to return Zakka to Lebanon because he is a Lebanese citizen, regardless of the validity of the Iranian charges against him.  

"Whether he was involved in any case, that's something to be determined by the Iranian authorities," Ibrahim said, according to Lebanon's National News Agency.

Freeing Zakka comes after weeks of tensions and mutual threats between Tehran and Washington.

The White House welcomed Zakka's release on Tuesday, calling for other US-linked detainees in Iran to be freed as well.

"We’re thankful for the release of the individual in Iran," spokeswoman Sarah Sanders said in a statement reported by several US media outlets.

"The big question is there’s several others and we want to see those people released as well."

Tehran, however, denied that the Lebanese businessman's release was a political move or a part of a prisoner exchange.

Judiciary spokesman Gholamhossein Esmaili said that freeing Zakka was in accordance with the law.

"This is an absolutely judicial procedure and no political issue has been involved," Esmaili as reported by AFP news agency.