France refuses to extradite Iranian engineer to US

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A French court on Wednesday turned down a US request to extradite an Iranian engineer accused of buying electronic parts and exporting them illegally to Iran for use by the military.

The decision to release Majid Kakavand capped more than a year of legal wrangling in a case that had broad diplomatic implications as France pressed for the release of a French academic held in Tehran.

The Paris appeals court, which has the authority to rule on extradition requests, found that "there are no grounds to favourably receive this extradition request from the United States."

Kakavand, who was arrested at Paris airport on March 20 last year following a holiday in France, said he planned to fly home as soon as possible and return to his "normal life".

"The Americans destroyed my life and my personality and made a very bad image of me and now everybody can understand that it was not true," the 37-year-old engineer told AFP after the ruling.

"With these baseless accusations, the Americans tried to mislead the French judiciary system."

Kakavand's case came before the courts as France seeks the release from Iran of 24-year-old French academic Clotilde Reiss, who has been tried on charges of acting against Iranian national security.

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad had linked Reiss's release to the fate of Iranians held in French jails but President Nicolas Sarkozy had flatly responded that there would be no such swap.

Another Iranian, Ali Vakili Rad, convicted of the 1991 murder of the deposed shah's last prime minister, Shapour Bakhtiar, is in France awaiting a decision on a parole request.

France has also been a vocal critic of Iran's nuclear programme, pressing calls for Tehran to address allegations that it is secretly developing nuclear weapons.

Kakavand said he did not see a link between his fate and that of Clotilde Reiss. "The case of Miss Reiss in Iran is quite different," he said.

US justice officials accused Kakavand of buying electronic components and measurement instruments through a Malaysian company and exporting them to Iran via Malaysia between 2006 and 2008.

The technology was bought from firms in New Jersey, Alabama and California and shipped to the Iran Electronics Industry (IEI) firm, which came under an EU trade ban in 2008.

Washington argued that Kakavand had purchased sensitive dual-use technology that could be used for military purposes and violated export laws by failing to seek a special license to ship them to Iran.

France however does not have the same export requirements for Iran and the IEI company that received the orders came under a trading ban after Kakavand had made his transactions, French officials said.

Last month, experts from the French arms agency DGA told the court that the electronics components purchased by Kakavand could not be considered potentially dangerous.

French prosecutors had told the appeals court that they opposed extradition, arguing that Kakavand's offences were not punishable in France at the time when they were committed.

The case dragged out in court over months with hearings repeatedly postponed as judges sought more time to examine US documents supporting the extradition request.

© 2010 AFP

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