Belgium, Iran conduct prisoner swap in Oman
Dubai: Belgium and Iran conducted a prisoner exchange Friday in Oman, with officials saying Tehran released a Belgian aid worker in exchange for an Iranian diplomat convicted of attempting to bomb a meeting of exiles in France.
The initial announcement by Oman’s Foreign Ministry did not identify the prisoners being swapped.
Later Friday, Belgian Prime Minister Alexander De Croo said in a statement that the aid worker, Olivier Vandecasteele, had been freed. Iranian state television later confirmed that the diplomat, Assadollah Assadi, was freed as well.
Oman’s Foreign Ministry said that “those released were transferred from Tehran and Brussels to Muscat today, Friday, in preparation for their return to their countries.” It added that “the sultanate of Oman appreciated the high positive spirit that prevailed in the talks in Muscat between the Iranian and Belgian sides, and their keenness to settle this humanitarian issue.”
De Croo said Vandecasteele was transferred to Oman on Thursday night. He was received by a team of Belgian diplomats and military officials, then was assessed by doctors. “Olivier spent 455 days in prison in Tehran. In unbearable conditions. Innocent,” De Croo wrote. “Olivier Vandecasteele’s return to Belgium is a relief. A relief for his family, friends and colleagues.” Oman has long served as an interlocutor for the West with Iran. In January, Iran sentenced Vandecasteele to a lengthy prison term and 74 lashes after convicting him of espionage.