Iranian president meets convicted diplomat who was exchanged for Olivier Vandecasteele

Iranian president Ebrahim Raisi has met with Assadollah Assadi, who was convicted of terrorism in Belgium but released in exchange for Belgian NGO worker Olivier Vandecasteele, Iranian state media reported on Saturday.

Assadi, an Iranian pseudo diplomat, was sentenced to 20 years in prison by the Antwerp correctional court on 4 February 2021 for attempted terrorist murder and membership of a terrorist organisation following a foiled attack in Paris.

He initially appealed against the sentence but later withdrew his appeal. The diplomat, who held a post in Vienna, was arrested in Germany on 1 July 2018 and extradited to Belgium three months later.

Vandecasteele returned to Belgium in May after being detained in Iran for 455 days. His release was made possible by a prisoner exchange with Assadi, Iran's foreign minister confirmed at the time. According to Belgian Justice minister Vincent Van Quickenborne (Open VLD), there was "no other choice" than to carry out the exchange.

Despite widespread relief at Vandecasteele's release, the swap was criticised. The National Council of Resistance of Iran in Belgium said it condemned the release of Assadi, calling the exchange "a shameful concession to the blackmail of terrorism and hostage-taking".


Iranian resident Ebrahim Raisi meeting in Tehran with Asadollah Asadi© PHOTO HANDOUT IRANIAN PRESIDENCY / AFP

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'We had no other choice', says Justice minister after Iran prisoner exchange
Belgium had no other choice to free Olivier Vandecasteele than to swap him with convicted Iranian terrorist Assadollah Assadi, deputy prime minister and minister of Justice Vincent Van Quickenborne told public broadcaster VRT on Friday evening. Vandecasteele is expected to land in Belgium later this evening.

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