A U.S. judge on Thursday ruled that Iran owes $1.45 billion to the family of ex-FBI agent Robert Levinson, who is believed to have been kidnapped by the Iranian government while visiting the Iranian island of Kish while on an unsanctioned mission by the CIA in March 2007.
The judgment comes after Levinson’s family and the U.S. government reached the belief that Levinson was kidnapped and died in Iranian captivity. Judge Timothy J. Kelly of the U.S. District Court in Washington ruled that Iran owes Levinson’s family $1.35 billion in punitive damages and $107 million in compensatory damages for his kidnapping, the Associated Press reported.
“Iran’s conduct here is also unique, given that — astonishingly — it plucked a former FBI and DEA special agent from the face of the earth without warning, tortured him, held him captive for as long as 13 years, and to this day refuses to admit its responsibility,” Judge Kelly said. “And his wife and children, and their spouses and children — while keeping Levinson’s memory alive — have had to proceed with their lives without knowing his exact fate. These are surely acts worthy of the gravest condemnation.”
Iran did not appear to acknowledge the U.S. court’s judgment in Levinson’s case, and reportedly declined requests for comment on the case made by the AP.
Levinson’s family called the Thursday ruling “the first step in the pursuit of justice.”
“Until now, Iran has faced no consequences for its actions,” the family said in a statement provided to the AP. “Judge Kelly’s decision won’t bring Bob home, but we hope that it will serve as a warning against further hostage taking by Iran.”
Levinson’s fate has remained in question since his 2007 disappearance. In December of 2013, the AP reported Levinson had been working in Iran on behalf of CIA analysts who had no authority to run spy operations and that Levinson’s family received a $2.5 million annuity from the CIA in order to stop a lawsuit revealing details of his work. The CIA reportedly fired three employees and disciplined seven more in connection with Levinson’s case.
In November, the Iranian Foreign Ministry claimed it had opened an investigation into Levinson’s disappearance. In March, the Iranian government claimed Levinson left Iran “long ago” and denied any connection with Levinson’s disappearance.
FBI Director Chris Wray, told the Levinson family in March that the best information gathered by the FBI indicated Levinson likely died in captivity.
“We explained that the most credible evidence we have collected over the past 13 years points to the likelihood that Bob died in captivity,” Wray said, according to an FBI email provided to the AP. “It pained me to deliver that news, but I believe that we owed Bob’s family a thorough and candid presentation of the information that we’ve collected.”
One sign of the Iranian government’s involvement in Levinson’s disappearance was broadcast from an Iranian government-linked media sources, around the time he disappeared in 2007, that said Levinson was “in the hands of Iranian security forces.”