According to the Wall Street Journal, the American government organized a secret airlift of $400 million in cash at the same time that four American hostages were released. According to American and European officials, the money (Euros and Swiss francs) was piled in wooden compartments and was flown into Tehran inside and unmarked plane.

The money came from Switzerland and the Netherlands’ central banks. Authorities have denied that the cash had anything to do with the release of Jason Rezaian and three others. However, U.S. officials admitted that Iranian negotiators wanted the cash in exchange of the prisoners, to feel they had gained “something tangible.” According to the Iranian press, the money is being described as “ransom payment” by Iranian defense forces.

The Obama Administration has organized a secret airlift of $400 million worth of cash. Image credit: U.S. Department of State.

“The negotiations over the settlement of an outstanding claim…were completely separate from the discussions about returning our American citizens home […] not only were the two negotiations separate, they were conducted by different teams on each side, including, in the case of The Hague claims, by technical experts involved in these negotiations for many years,” said State Department spokesman John Kirby.

What was the cash for?

The Obama administration has said the money was the first payment of a $1.7 billion settlement that is supposed to reimburse Iran from a failed arms deal, signed just when the country’s last monarch, Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi fell.

U.S. Iran deal
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry alongside Iranian officials. Image credit: U.S. State Department.

On January 17, 2016, President Obama stated: “with the nuclear deal done, prisoners released, the time was right to resolve this dispute as well.”

This agreement settled claims before The Hague tribunal and coincided with the implementation of the nuclear agreement between the U.S. and Iran.

U.S. officials described the deal as “a bargain: for taxpayers”, since the United States would probably have lost the arbitration case in The Hague, and would have resulted in paying Iran more than $10 billion.

Until this first payment came to light, the Obama administration always refused to acknowledge publicly how the settlement was paid. Many expressed their concerns about Iran using the money to fund Hezbollah and the Syrian regime.

Nonetheless, the director of the Central Intelligence Agency, John Brennan argued that the money is being used for developing the country, by building its infrastructure and helping with the agencies’ budgets.

Trump meddles in the case

Republican Candidate Donald Trump used his Twitter to attack the Obama administration after the information about the payment to Iran came to light. Trump has denounced that the “incompetent” Hillary Clinton was the one who decided to reach a settlement with Iran, claiming it was scandalous.

In November 2014, the U.S. and Iran entered into negotiations concerning the release of the four American prisoners. The negotiations expanded to include, not only the exchange of American hostages in Tehran with Iranian nationals jailed in the U.S. but also the arbitration case in The Hague.

“Our incompetent Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton, was the one who started talks to give 400 million dollars, in cash, to Iran. Scandal!” tweeted Trump on Wednesday.

The four Americans were released in the early hours of January 17, 2016. In exchange, the United States dropped extradition requests for fourteen Iranian citizens and freed seven others.

Sources: The Wall Street Journal