Iran said Wednesday a prisoner exchange with Belgium was “finalized,” hinting at the release of Belgian aid worker Olivier Vandecasteele which Brussels swiftly rejected as “manipulation.”
Vandecasteele, 42, was sentenced in January to 40 years in prison and 74 lashes for “espionage,” Tehran’s judiciary said at the time, after a trial his family and Belgian authorities dubbed “unfair.”
“The agreement on the transfer of convicts between Iran and Belgium has been concluded and finalized, and the documents have been transferred,” judiciary spokesman Massoud Setayeshi said.
In a potential swap, Brussels would release Iranian diplomat Assadollah Assadi, sentenced in Belgium to 20 years in prison over a plot to blow up an Iranian opposition event in 2018 outside Paris.
“The other party had applied, we also applied (for the transfer), and God willing, this action will take place,” Setayeshi said without elaborating.
A Belgian government official told AFP shortly after the Iranian announcement that “we deny the information suggesting the possible release of Olivier Vandecasteele,” arrested in Tehran in February 2022.
Foreign Minister Hadja Lahbib told parliament in Brussels the announcement was an example of Iran’s “manipulation and disinformation.”
She also confirmed Iran had requested Assadi’s transfer, without elaborating. The jailed diplomat’s potential release concerns “Belgium’s security but also that of our European partners,” said Lahbib.
Belgian Justice Minister Vincent Van Quickenborne equally denied the Iranian spokesman’s remarks and said in a tweet Tehran was seeking to “sow confusion” in a “very delicate” case.
Vandecasteele’s family recently reported “serious health issues” that put his life at risk, regretting he was held in solitary confinement without access to medical treatment.
A prisoner exchange treaty between Iran and Belgium allowing a potential swap entered into force on April 18.