Australia rejects US plea for extradition of Iranian student accused of smuggling military devices

An image grab from footage released by Iranian IRIB TV channel on Oct 5, 2019 shows what it said was Dehbashi Kivi, a PhD student at the University of Queensland in Brisbane, arriving at Teheran's Imam Khomeini International Airport from Australia following a 13-month detention on accusations of circumventing US sanctions on military equipment. PHOTO: AFP

CANBERRA (BLOOMBERG) - Australia has rejected a United States extradition request for an Iranian student who had been accused of conspiring to smuggle electronic military devices to his homeland.

"I considered that, in all the circumstances of this particular case, Mr Dehbashi Kivi should not ultimately be extradited to the United States," Attorney-General Christian Porter said in a statement late on Saturday (Oct 5), the same day that Iran released two Australian students accused of spying in that country.

Mr Porter's office declined to comment on whether there had been a prisoner swop between the nations.

"While it is likely that because of Mr Kivi's nationality, some will speculate regarding this matter, consistent with prior practice, I do not intend to comment further on the particular details of this case, particularly when any such response from me may diminish our government's capacity to deal with future matters of this type in Australia's best interests," he said.

The Brisbane Times reported in May that Kivi had appeared in a local court after lawyers for the US government applied for his extradition for allegedly conspiring to export "defence articles designated under the US munitions list" for the Iranian government.

On Saturday, Iranian news service FARS reported that Kivi had been released and returned to Iran after being detained in Australia since September 2018. Mr Porter's office declined to confirm that or give details on why he rejected the US extradition request.

Meanwhile, Australians Mark Firkin and Jolie King thanked their government for securing their release on Saturday. They had been posting their journey through South Asia and the Middle East when they were detained by Iranian authorities for allegedly using a drone to take footage of a military site.

Negotiations are continuing to secure the freedom of a third Australian detained in Iran, Melbourne-based university lecturer Kylie Moore-Gilbert, Foreign Affairs Minister Marise Payne told reporters in Sydney on Saturday.

"She has been detained for some considerable time and has faced the Iranian legal system and has been convicted and sentenced," she said, adding that Australia does not accept the charges against her.

Iran's often competing intelligence agencies have a long record of targeting Iranians with dual nationality as well as foreign nationals, detaining them on vague security charges and then using them to gain leverage in negotiations with Western countries, often over financial and political disputes.

Australia announced in August that it would join a US-led coalition to protect ships passing through the Strait of Hormuz as tensions between Iran and the West escalated.

In a travel advisory for Iran, Australia warns of a risk of foreigners being arbitrarily detained or arrested in the nation.

Iran's history of detaining foreign nationals has been condemned by human rights groups as akin to hostage-taking, and there is evidence that its use has increased as Iranian authorities fight back against a US-led economic offensive.

American sanctions are steadily collapsing the 2015 nuclear deal which ended the Islamic Republic's isolation. European efforts led by France to save the accord are foundering, while the tit-for-tat seizing by Britain and Iranian forces of oil tankers sparked a diplomatic storm between the two.

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