On May 26, Belgium freed an Iranian diplomat convicted of planning a bombing in France under a prisoner swap deal that was brokered by Oman.
The initial announcement of the deal by Oman state television did not identify the prisoners being swapped. However, it became later known that Brussels released Iranian diplomat, Assadollah Assadi, in exchange for a Belgian aid worker named Olivier Vandecasteele who was held by Tehran.
“Those released were transferred from Tehran and Brussels to Muscat today, Friday, in preparation for their return to their countries,” the Omani report said. “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.”
Belgium convicted Assadi in 2021 of masterminding a thwarted bomb attack against an Iranian opposition group in France and sentenced to 20 years in prison.
Vandecasteele was accused by Iran of espionage and sentenced last January to a lengthy prison term, 74 lashes and a $1 million fine.
Iran’s top diplomat confirmed that Belgium released Assadi on Twitter, and said that he was traveling back to the Islamic republic.
“Assadollah Assadi, the innocent diplomat of our country, who was illegally detained in Germany and Belgium for more than two years against international law, is now on his way back to his homeland,” Foreign Minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian said, thanking Oman for its role in securing his release.
Meanwhile, Belgian Prime Minister Alexander de Croo said Vandecasteele was on his way home “after 455 days in prison in Tehran in unbearable conditions”.
The prisoner swap deal, which highlights Oman’s growing role as a mediator in the Middle East, will likely de-escalate tensions between Iran and the European Union. Tehran faced more pressure and sanctions from EU member states last year after it was accused of supplying drones to Russia for use in Ukraine operations.