TEL AVIV – U.S. officials and others briefed on the operation have provided new details about the transfer of $400 million in cash to Tehran earlier this year, depicting what the Wall Street Journal has described as a “tightly scripted exchange specifically timed to the release of several American prisoners held in Iran.”
The Obama administration has denied the ransom claims, explaining that the money was owed to Iran as part of the $1.7 billion settlement of a case that dates back to the late 1970’s
However, the new descriptions of the payment and the timing of the cash handoff raise questions about the relationship between the payment and the release of the American hostages on the same day in January.
Reports the Journal:
U.S. officials wouldn’t let Iranians take control of the money until a Swiss Air Force plane carrying three freed Americans departed from Tehran on Jan. 17, the officials said. Once that happened, an Iranian cargo plane was allowed to bring the cash back from a Geneva airport that day, according to the accounts.
Those briefed on the operation related that the pallets filled with $400 million in foreign currency were flown on an Iran Air cargo jet that had been loaded with the cash in Geneva and was awaiting instructions to depart.
The Journal report continued:
Once the Americans were “wheels up” on the morning of Jan. 17, Iranian officials in Geneva were allowed to take custody of the $400 million in currency, according to officials briefed on the exchange.
…Lawmakers are concerned the IRGC may have gained control of the cash once in Tehran. U.S. officials said they are not certain how Iran has used the $400 million that was returned.
Feds Won’t Divulge Timing of Critical $1.3 Billion Payment
It has been widely reported that the $400 million was part of a dispute that arose after Iran in the late 1970s had purchased U.S. fighter jets while Tehran was still an American ally. After the country turned into an enemy in 1979, the U.S. halted delivery of the military equipment, thus triggering an international case in which Iran was asking The Hague arbitrators for $10 billion.
Following years of negotiations, the Obama administration finally agreed to settle the case for $1.7 billion – the initial $400 million plus another $1.3 billion in interest.
Last Thursday, Breitbart Jerusalem reported that the State and Treasury Departments both told this reporter that the U.S. government transferred the remaining $1.3 billion but that, despite numerous requests, neither State nor Treasury would provide an answer on how the Obama administration allegedly transferred to Iran the remaining $1.3 billion.
Then on Friday, a State Department spokesperson refused to tell Breitbart Jerusalem when the $1.3 billion was sent.
The details about how and when the additional funds were sent are relevant to determining whether President Obama needed to pay Iran on the same day the hostages were released and whether the payment needed to be made in cash because the two countries had no banking relationship, as the president has said.
If the additional $1.3 billion were transferred around the time of the $400 million, it could raise questions as to why the $400 million needed to be sent separately. And if the $1.3 billion was not delivered in cash, it could raise further questions about the need for a cash drop off mere hours before the hostages were set free by Tehran.
“We are not going to get into the tick-tock of specifics regarding the Hague Tribunal settlement payments,” the spokesperson stated.
A spokesperson for the Treasury Department did not respond to a request about the timing of the alleged payment.
The State Department’s refusal to comment on the timing stands in contrast to an August 4th press conference in which State Department Spokesman Mark Toner was repeatedly asked about the timing of the $1.3 billion payment and Toner told reporters that he did not know and “can try to find that out.”
Here is a transcript of those remarks:
QUESTION: And then one more. When was the 1.3 billion in interest settled? That was done through a – through the Judgment Fund, which is administered by the Treasury. But when was that 1.3 – I was told it was fully settled. When was that done and how was it done?
MR TONER: Sure. So the payment for the compromise that was reached on interest, that was 1.3 billion, as you note. That was provided out of the Judgment Fund, and that’s the source of funding to pay judgments and settlements of claim against the United States when there is no other source of funding. And I think awards and settlements of tribunal claims have been paid out of that fund in the past, since 1991 I think, to a tune of some 278 million before – prior to this settlement. Your question is when —
QUESTION: When? Was it done several weeks after the 400 million in cash was transferred?
MR TONER: I know that it was done. I don’t know the – I don’t have a date, the specific date on when that actually took place.
QUESTION: Can you find that out, please?
MR TONER: I can try to find that out. I know also that Treasury was speaking to that yesterday, as well as today.
QUESTION: Oh, I didn’t see those remarks, which is – because it’s caused confusion as far as when they were paid.
MR TONER: I understand.
Reuters reported the $1.3 billion was transferred to Iran by the Treasury Department’s Judgment Fund.
The Fund, according to its website:
“is a permanent, indefinite appropriation available to pay judicially and administratively ordered monetary awards against the United States. The Judgment Fund is also available to pay amounts owed under compromise agreements negotiated by the U.S. Department of Justice in settlement of claims arising under actual or imminent litigation, if a judgment on the merits would be payable from the Judgment Fund.”
A spokesperson for the Judgement Fund confirmed that the payment for the compromise that was reached on interest, of approximately $1.3 billion, has indeed been provided out of the Fund.
The Fund spokesperson refused to comment on the mechanics of how a settlement payment was made or when the payment was transferred. The spokesperson did not reply to a follow-up question about whether the remaining $1.3 billion was transferred in cash or by any other means.
When asked about how the remaining $1.3 billion was transferred, a spokesperson for the State Department replied that the agency had “nothing to add beyond what the President and Secretary have already said on the subject.”
While refusing to comment on the timing, the spokesperson confirmed that the remaining $1.3 billion was indeed paid in full to Iran. The spokesperson also refused to provide comment to two separate requests about how the money was transferred.
Aaron Klein is Breitbart’s Jerusalem bureau chief and senior investigative reporter. He is a New York Times bestselling author and hosts the popular weekend talk radio program, “Aaron Klein Investigative Radio.” Follow him on Twitter @AaronKleinShow. Follow him on Facebook.
With additional research by Joshua Klein.