US to deport Iranian professor acquitted of sanctions busting

The United States is expected to deport Iranian professor Sirous Asgari, who was acquitted of stealing trade secrets, once he receives medical clearance to leave, US and Iranian officials said on Tuesday.

Asgari might be part of a rare prisoner swap between foes Iran and the United States. Iranian sources have told Reuters that Tehran is prepared to take part in a swap.

The 59-year-old Asgari, who tested positive for the novel coronavirus around 10 days ago, is under the medical care of U.S. immigration authorities and awaits a health clearance to travel, said Abolfazl Mehrabadi, an Iranian diplomat who is deputy director of Tehran’s interests section at the Pakistani Embassy in Washington.

“We are working and cooperating with the immigration office to deport him as soon as possible to Iran,” Mehrabadi said.

A spokesman for US Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) declined to provide a specific timeline but confirmed that the agency was expecting to carry out Asgari’s removal from the country once he is medically cleared to travel.

Connecting flights that normally carry deportees to Iran have been canceled and the agency is waiting for service to resume, the spokesman said. He did not say how long this could take.

The ICE spokesman, who asked not to be named, confirmed Asgari had tested positive for COVID-19 and was currently in quarantine, receiving care.

A federal judge in Ohio acquitted Asgari, a materials science professor, last November of stealing trade secrets in violation of US sanctions on Iran.

Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif in March urged the United States to release Asgari, who he said was one of several Iranian scientists taken “hostage” by the United States.

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