Tehran has said a former Federal Bureau of Investigation agent who disappeared in Iran 13 years ago had left the country a long time ago, despite his family saying a day earlier that he had died in Iranian custody.
USA officials say that Levinson was working independently as a private investigator, seeking information on alleged corruption involving former Iranian president Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani and his family, said sources familiar with his work.
Levinson's family thanked Donald Trump and his administration for doing all they could "to make our family whole again" but they blamed other, unnamed U.S. officials for their lack of action.
U.S. Senator Jim Risch, an Idaho Republican who chairs the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said in a statement Wednesday, "I am incredibly saddened by recent reports from the Levinson family that Bob Levinson passed on while in Iranian custody".
Wray writes in the email that he himself met with the Levinson family and "explained that the most credible evidence we have collected over the past 13 years points to the likelihood that Bob died in captivity".
"Those that are answerable for what occurred to Bob Levinson, together with these within the United States authorities who for a few years repeatedly left him behind, will in the end obtain justice for what they've performed", the household mentioned. At the time, Trump called for Iran to turn over Levinson, whom he said was "kidnapped".
Fox News reported that "Levinson was 58 years old when he traveled to Kish Island, Iran, in 2007 working as a private investigator as part of an unauthorized Central Intelligence Agency mission allegedly probing cigarette smuggling".
He said that he had not received any word from Iran about the agent's death. "But a lot of people are thinking that is the case". "That is the very definition of cruelty".
President Donald Trump expressed his sympathies to the family when asked about the statement at the White House coronavirus briefing, but he said the USA did not yet have confirmation that Levinson is dead. "Our family will spend the rest of our lives without the most fantastic man we have ever known, a new reality that is inconceivable to us". We don't even know when, or even if, his body would be returned to us. "The safe return of all Americans held hostage or wrongfully detained overseas remains a top priority of the Trump administration". For years, USA officials would say only that Levinson was working independently on a private investigation. "We will spend the rest of our lives making sure of this, and the Iranian regime must know we will not be going away".
"He was a great gentleman", he said.
Proof-of-life photos and a video were received by Mr Levinson's family in 2010 and 2011, which they later released to media. Even then, his whereabouts and fate were not known.
Iran repeatedly has said that it has no information about Levinson, though US diplomats and investigators have long said they thought he was taken by Iranian government agents.
The family experienced a surge of hope in November 2019 when the Iranian government unexpectedly responded to a United Nations query by saying that Levinson was the subject of an "open case" in Iranian Revolutionary Court.
Levinson, who was Jewish, is survived by his wife, Christine, seven children, and numerous grandchildren.
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