A Qatari jet carrying five U.S. citizens who were held in Iran left the country for Doha as part of a prisoner exchange, a source with knowledge of the situation confirmed Monday. “A Qatari jet has taken off with the five prisoners and two relatives accompanied by the Qatari ambassador,” said the informed source, speaking on condition of anonymity.
Earlier, frozen funds totaling $6 billion were transferred to Qatari banks under the prisoner swap deal.
The release of the funds by U.S. ally South Korea, long blocked under sanctions, is the key condition for the exchange of five Americans detained in Iran and, according to Tehran, five Iranians held in the United States.
Qatar, which acted as the mediator because Washington and Tehran do not have diplomatic relations, has informed both sides of the transfer, said the source briefed on details of the matter.
“Iranian and U.S. officials have been notified by Qatar that all $6 billion has been transferred from Switzerland to bank accounts in Qatar,” said the source, requesting anonymity.
Iran earlier voiced hope that the prisoner swap with the United States would take place later on Monday.
“We hope to have total access to the Iranian assets today,” Iran’s foreign ministry spokesman Nasser Kanani told a Tehran press conference.n”The prisoner exchange will take place on the same day and five Iranian citizens imprisoned in America will be released.”
Iran had generated the $6 billion through oil sales to South Korea, which froze the funds after the United States under former president Donald Trump reimposed sanctions as he withdrew from a landmark nuclear accord.
Iran’s central bank governor said Iran would seek damages from South Korea for withholding the funds. The equivalent of 5.57 billion euros ($5.95 billion) was deposited in six Iranian accounts with two Qatari banks Monday, he said.
“We’re making a complaint on behalf of Iran against South Korea for not giving access to these funds and the reduction in value of these funds in order to receive damages,” Mohammadreza Farzin said on state TV.
The five Americans – all considered Iranian nationals by Tehran, which rejects dual nationality – were released to house arrest when the deal was agreed last month.
Among the Americans is Siamak Namazi, a businessman arrested in 2015 on spying charges which his family has rejected.
The others are wildlife conservationist Morad Tahbaz, venture capitalist Emad Sharqi, and two others who wished to remain anonymous.
Last week, the official IRNA news agency identified the five Iranian prisoners.
They include Reza Sarhangpour and Kambiz Attar Kashani, both accused of having violated U.S. sanctions against Tehran.
A third prisoner, Kaveh Lotfolah Afrasiabi, was detained at his home near Boston in 2021 and charged with being an Iranian government agent, according to U.S. officials.
The two others, Mehrdad Moein Ansari and Amin Hasanzadeh, were said to have links to Iranian security forces.
Out of the five Iranians to be released, two will return to Iran while two others will remain in the United States, upon their request, said Kanani.
The fifth Iranian prisoner will travel to a third country, he added.
The White House has denied that the unfreezing of the Iranian funds was effectively a ransom payment.
President Joe Biden’s administration has insisted that Iran will only be allowed to use the money to buy food, medicine and other humanitarian goods.