Iran Tells U.K. To Pay Debts Ahead of British National’s Trial

Iran demanded the U.K. government take “urgent steps” to return hundreds of millions of dollars for undelivered military equipment it paid for decades ago -- just as a British-Iranian woman faces new charges at a Tehran court.

Iran and the U.K. have been locked in a long legal battle over Tehran’s payment for 1,750 tanks more than four decades ago. After the shah of Iran was deposed in the 1979 revolution, the U.K. withheld the bulk of the order.

The demand on Thursday to settle the debt came days after Iran said it presented a new indictment against Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe and expects her to appear in court later this week. Earlier this week, her British national husband called her a hostage over the tank debt, the U.K.’s Guardian newspaper reported.

A 2001 tribunal at the International Chamber of Commerce ruled in favor of Iran in the tanks case, and the U.K was later ordered to return $650 million. But the ruling was challenged by the U.K. Defense Ministry, which rejected Tehran’s demand for interest on the debt.

Neither country has officially or publicly linked Zaghari-Ratcliffe’s case to the tanks affair. But the Guardian reported last week that U.K. Defense Minister Ben Wallace wrote a letter to the lawyers acting for families of British-Iranians detained in Iran, acknowledging he is actively trying to find ways to make the payment.

Zaghari-Ratcliffe was arrested at Tehran’s Imam Khomeini Airport and separated from her young daughter in 2016 after visiting her family in Iran. She was sentenced to five years in prison for spying in September of that year, and granted temporary release to house arrest in March as the coronavirus took hold in Iran. The Iranian government hasn’t released details about the latest charges.

The British government has denied the allegations against Zaghari-Ratcliffe.

Iran’s Ministry of Defense said in a statement published on the official government website dolat.ir that the British government was using sanctions as a false pretext for not paying the debt.

©2020 Bloomberg L.P.

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