PARIS (AFP) – French judges could release an Iranian agent jailed for the murder of a former prime minister as early as next month, his lawyer said Tuesday, after France accused Tehran of seeking a prisoner swap.
On Monday, France’s Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner said Iran wanted France to free convicted assassin Ali Vakili Rad in exchange for the release of 24-year-old French researcher Coltilde Reiss, who is on trial in Tehran.
Reiss, a young teacher who was accused of taking part in anti-government protests, is due to appear in court on Wednesday in Iran and her family is hoping for a rapid verdict and her return to France.
Paris has angrily ruled out any question of an exchange, insisting its judicial system is independent and protesting Reiss’ innocence. But Rad’s French lawyer told AFP his client would get a parole hearing in January.
“My client does not want to be the object of any exchange between France and Iran. He is asking for nothing, he just wants to be paroled without reference to any political manoeuvres,” defence counsel Sorin Margulis said.
Valiki Rad was convicted of the murder in France of exiled former Iranian premier Shapour Bakhtiar in 1994 and judges ordered that he serve a minimum of 18 years of a life sentence, which would have kept him in jail until 2012.
But, according to Margulis, on July 2 this year he persuaded a court to lift the minimum sentence because of his client’s “exemplary behaviour.” Valiki Rad has now asked to be paroled and expelled from France, the lawyer said.
Anti-terror magistrates will meet to decide on the request in late January.
Last week, Iran’s President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad — who has previously raised the issue of Iranian prisoners in France — suggested that Reiss might be freed but that it would depend on the attitude of the French government.
He did not say what in particular he would like to see France do, but Kouchner said he had demanded the release of the agent, who admitted at trial that he had been sent by his government to France to kill Bakhtiar.
Reiss was arrested in the wake of the protests that followed Iran’s disputed June presidential election, shortly before she was due to fly home after a six-month study and teaching visit to the Iranian city of Isfahan.
She was accused of supporting the opposition protests and was one of scores of alleged dissidents paraded before cameras at a televised show trial, before being remanded in custody in Tehran’s notorious Evin jail.
In August, Reiss was granted bail on condition that she await the final verdict in the case at the French embassy in Tehran, where she has since remained. She will appear in court on Wednesday.
“Clotilde Reiss will once again meet the judge tomorrow,” Kouchner told reporters in Paris. “We don’t expect a verdict. This young woman is innocent of all she is accused of. I hope that will be recognised by Iranian justice.
“No exchange is possible. There is a French justice that is independent and an Iranian justice that we want to see demonstrate its independence and the innocence of this 24-year-old girl,” he said.