How is Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe linked to a UK debt to Iran?

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Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe, a British-Iranian woman who has been held in Iran for nearly six years, has returned to the United Kingdom.

Her release, as well as that of another dual national, Anoosheh Ashoori, has been linked to the UK repaying Iran a multi-million-pound debt stemming from a failed 40-year arms contract.

The Shah of Iran, a pro-Western monarch who ruled the country at the time, acquired 1,500 Chieftain tanks and 250 Armoured Recovery Vehicles from the United Kingdom in a deal worth an estimated £650 million in the 1970s.

International Military Services (IMS), a private business that later became a part of the UK Ministry of Defence, received the funds.

Before the Shah was toppled in the Islamic Revolution of 1979, just 185 of the tanks were transferred to the Iranian authorities.

Since then, the Iranian government has been attempting to recoup the funds for the tanks that were never delivered.

Iran took IMS to the International Chamber of Commerce (ICC) in 1990, a global corporate organisation that settles international trade issues.

A hearing in 2001 ruled in Iran’s favour. IMS appealed, but promised to pay the court £328.5 million if its appeal was unsuccessful in 2002.

The appeal hearings were completed in 2009, and the verdict in Iran’s favour was affirmed. However, in June 2008, the European Union imposed sanctions on Iran, and IMS’ payment to the Iranians was not released.

The UK government agreed it owed Iran for the tanks that were never delivered but maintained it couldn’t pay since Iran was still under economic sanctions.

There was also the issue of how much the United Kingdom owed Iran.

The British-Iranian was apprehended in April 2016 and held for nearly six years on suspicion of plotting against the Iranian regime. Throughout this time, she protested her innocence.

Former Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt said in 2021 that Iran was linking her case to the outstanding debt.

The UK government, on the other hand, has refused to acknowledge that her arrest, as well as that of other dual nationals such as retired engineer Anoosheh Ashoori, was linked to the money.