The assassin of an exiled Iranian prime minister has been released from jail in France two days after Tehran freed a young French academic accused of spying. The French government denies the two affairs are linked.
Iranian agent Ali Vakili Rad walked free from a French jail 16 years after being convicted of killing exiled Iranian Prime Minister Shahpour Bakhtiar. Rad flew home to Iran,just two days after French academic Clotilde Reiss arrived in Paris after being detained by Iranian authorities for months on spying charges.
The French government has vehemently denied any bargaining took place to secure Reiss' release. And Rad's lawyer Sorin Margulis told reporters that his client's release was not in exchange for that of Reiss.
Lawyer Margulis said Rad could have been released a year ago. He said Reiss' detention only delayed and complicated his client's case.
The judge who ordered Rad to stand trial, Jean-Louis Bruguiere, also said he saw nothing unusual about Rad's release.
Bruguiere told French radio he was convinced the judge who ordered Rad's release had acted independently.
But an Iranian activists and French opposition politicians question the timing of the Iranian's release. And skeptics note that Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad had earlier suggested that France and Iran should exchange detainees in each others' prisons.
Last week, a French court also rejected an American extradition request targeting another Iranian suspected of having illegal business dealings with companies tied to Iran's military.
Iran has been under heavy international pressure to abandon its nuclear program. The Iranian government insists it is for peaceful purposes, but Western nations fear it is aimed at building a bomb.
Separately, French President Nicolas Sarkozy described as a positive step a deal struck Monday between Tehran and Turkey on enriching Iran's uranium overseas.