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US court orders Iran to pay $1.4bn in damages to missing ex-FBI agent's family

Robert Levinson, who was on unauthorised CIA mission, disappeared in 2007 after flying from Dubai to Iran's Kish Island
Levinson's family welcomed the ruling in a statement (AFP)
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A United States court has ordered the Iranian government to pay more than $1.4bn in damages to the family of a former FBI agent who went missing during a visit to an Iranian island in March 2007.

US District Judge Timothy Kelly issued the order late last week and said he adopted a special expert's recommendation that Robert Levinson's family be awarded punitive damages of $1.3bn, with an additional $107m in compensatory damages.

"Iran's conduct here is also unique, given that – astonishingly – it plucked a former FBI and DEA special agent from the face of the earth without warning, tortured him, held him captive for as long as 13 years, and to this day refuses to admit its responsibility," Kelly said.

"His wife and children, and their spouses and children – while keeping Levinson's memory alive – have had to proceed with their lives without knowing his exact fate."

Levinson's family welcomed the ruling in a statement, saying that while the decision "won't bring Bob home, but we hope that it will serve as a warning against further hostage-taking by Iran".

"This judgement is the first step in the pursuit of justice for Robert Levinson, an American patriot who was kidnapped and subjected to unimaginable suffering for more than 13 years," Levinson's family said.

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Levinson disappeared in 2007 after flying from Dubai to Iran's Kish Island in the Gulf.

In March, the Trump administration had come to the conclusion that Levinson had died, according to a statement from his family that cited intelligence received from US officials.

Iran denied his death and said the former FBI agent had left the country "years ago".

At the time, the FBI deemed Levinson to be the longest-held hostage in Iran. For years, the US had masked his undercover mission, saying he was a private citizen in Iran on business.

The Associated Press previously uncovered that Levinson was on an unauthorised CIA mission, being paid by a team of analysts with no authority to run operations.

Three of the analysts who took part in the mission were later forced out of the agency.

The rogue operation in 2007 became a major government scandal because even after the White House was made aware of it, it did not change its narrative that Levinson was a private citizen conducting business in Iran.

Tensions have remained high between Washington and Tehran since US President Donald Trump walked away from the Iran nuclear deal in 2018 and reimposed sanctions that have devastated the Iranian economy.

Though the US and Iran have not had diplomatic relations since the aftermath of the 1979 US embassy hostage crisis in Tehran, the US still holds billions of dollars in frozen Iranian assets that could be used to pay Levinson’s family.