The family of part-time CIA consultant Robert Levinson filed a lawsuit against the government of Iran Tuesday, claiming it had concealed its role in his disappearance.
The family’s lawsuit, filed in Washington, D.C., on Tuesday, says the Levinson family “has suffered grievously from these actions and continues to suffer. [His wife] Christine Levinson has been in a state of distress for 10 years. She has had nightmares about his torture.”
The Levinson family attorney, David McGee, of Pensacola, said Wednesday that there is precedence for Americans to file claims against Iranian assets in America, including real estate. Even though the lawsuit seeks an unspecified amount of money, he said, it’s not about the cash. “All the family wants is justice,” he said. “If they send him back, they can keep their damn money.”
Levinson, a former agent for the Drug Enforcement Administration and FBI, was working for the CIA when he planned a trip in 2007 to Kish Island, a resort island that is a part of Iran and located in the Persian Gulf just off the Iranian mainland. He was there trying to cultivate an informant for the CIA.
McGee said that Levinson was investigating the money laundering of billions of dollars stolen from the Iranian government and the cash hidden in the West.
“He was trying to locate that money,” McGee said.
Three weeks after Levinson went missing on March 9, 2007, “an Iranian government news outlet, Press TV, announced that he had been taken into custody by Iranian security authorities but was expected to be released shortly,” according to the lawsuit. “Despite this report, Robert Levinson was not released and the Iranian government began falsely denying any knowledge of his capture or whereabouts.”
Though Levinson was abroad working on behalf of the United States, Iran should be more forthcoming with information, McGee said.
“Do you not the tell the world, ‘We’re going to charge this man with a crime?’ That’s not what happened. There is no excuse for the way they have treated him even if, and I’m not saying he did, violated Iranian law.”
A United Nations report from last year concluded Iranian authorities detained Levinson at his hotel on March 9, 2007, and have held him ever since. Iran denies involvement.
According to the lawsuit, in a “cynical effort” to convince the United States that it was others who held Levinson, “Iran has arranged for extortion demands to be sent to the Levinson family, purportedly from some unidentified terrorist group.”
The FBI, which according to the lawsuit concluded Iran was involved, said Wednesday it “does not comment on civil litigation.” FBI spokeswoman Lindsay G. Ram pointed to an agency statement earlier this month that called on the Iranian government to provide assistance.
The Levinson family’s lawsuit states that the extortion demands began with a series of emails to Levinson’s family and friends. The demands called for changes in U.S. policy and threatened Levinson’s life. The emails began in August of 2007, but until November of 2010 the family didn’t have proof that he was even alive. In November 2010, the family received a video; in April 2011 they received photos.
“The video is attached to an email demanding $3,000,000 and the release of certain named individuals and threatening to kill Robert Levinson if their demands are not met,” the lawsuit said.
According to the suit, the Levinson family immediately replied with a message to the sender of the email, but there was no response. Whoever sent that email could not be located and no instructions were ever received on how to deliver the ransom.
In April 2011, the family received five photographs of Levinson — he had lost weight, his hair is disheveled and he has a long beard. He is wearing an orange jump suit and he is bound by chains.
Key to the lawsuit are examples McGee said shows Iran knows where Levinson is. Once, he said, the Iranian ambassador to France asked for a meeting with representatives of an American religious organization “to make a back channel offer to the United States government,” in exchange for delaying the release of a damaging report on Iran’s nuclear program.
In return, under the proposal, they would release Levinson. America did not delay the report.
The lawsuit also alleges that Iran has offered to arrange Levinson’s release if the United States would return to Iran an Iranian Revolutionary Guard general who had defected from Iran after being involved in Iran’s nuclear programs. If the man were sent back “they were going to kill him, there’s no way America could do that,” McGee said.
In that case, he said the information comes from a “variety of sources, some of it being the [U.S.] government.”