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Belgium swaps convicted terrorist for free aid worker imprisoned in Iran – POLITICO

Iran released Olivier Vandecasteele, a Belgian aid worker who had been detained in Iran for more than a year, in exchange for convicted terrorist Assadollah Assadi, who had been imprisoned in Belgium.

“Olivier Vandecasteele is on his way to Belgium,” Belgian Prime Minister Alexander De Croo said on Friday. “If all goes as planned, he will be with us tonight.”

Vandecasteele is expected to land at the Melsbroek military base between 9 p.m. and 9:30 p.m. Friday evening, the Belgian government said at a press conference.

Authorities confirmed that the Belgian aid worker had been swapped for Assadi, but without using a controversial bilateral agreement that would allow Iranians convicted in Belgium to serve their sentences in Iran, and vice versa.

Instead, the government used an article of the Belgian constitution that gives it the power to rule on foreign policy issues, making the swap possible.

No ransom was paid to free Vandecasteele, the Belgian government said.

Iranian diplomat Assadi was sentenced to 20 years in prison by an Antwerp court in 2021 for plotting to bomb a rally organized by Iranian dissidents near Paris.

Assadi will return to Iran “in the next few hours”, Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Nasser Kanaani said in a statement.

An Iranian political opposition movement in exile, the National Council of Resistance of Iran, on Friday condemned the prisoner swap, saying it ‘encourages terrorism and betrays human rights by violating the court’s ruling. constitutional”.

Vandecasteele had been sentenced to 40 years in prison on four different counts: spying on Iran, cooperating with the United States against Iran, currency smuggling and money laundering.

The Belgian government had declared that the accusations were “fabricated” and had pushed for the release of Vandecasteele.

This story has been updated.

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