Hill Seeks Answers from Treasury and State over Reported Iranian Hostage Payment

For more information, contact: Mike Siegel, (202) 225-2506

Today, Congressman French Hill (AR-02) sent a letter to Department of Treasury Secretary Jack Lew and Secretary of State John Kerry seeking answers from Treasury and the Department of State on questions over news reports that the Obama Administration authorized a $400 million cash payment to the Iranian Government in exchange for four American hostages.

In the letter Congressman Hill, a member of the House Financial Services Committee Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigation and the Task Force to Investigate Terrorism Financing, wrote:

Since the start of negotiations with Iran on an agreement regarding the future of its nuclear program, I have expressed serious concerns about this agreement’s ability to prohibit Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons capabilities and to ensure the security of the United States and our allies in the Middle East. The final agreement between Iran and the P5+1 countries, as memorialized in the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), has only exacerbated these serious concerns, and I believe that the P5+1 countries were out negotiated, particularly in freeing sanctioned funds immediately and granting Iran and her affiliates immediate access to the international banking system and the Society for Worldwide Interbank Financial Telecommunication (SWIFT).

Further, I believe that critical issues were left off the table such as: a true strict and transparent verification process; complete dismantlement of Iran’s nuclear capacity, as promised by President Obama; freedom of all U.S. hostages; a ban on ballistic missile testing and deployment; and, payment of the $45 billion in claims for the atrocities perpetrated by Iran against American diplomats, military personnel, and dual American-Iranian citizens. Beyond the American hostages whom Iran has taken, the 1983 U.S. Marine Corps Barracks bombing in Beirut, Lebanon, which killed 241 U.S. servicemen, and the untold number of U.S. servicemen killed by Iran’s proxies during the Iraq war from 2003-2011 were all a direct result of Iran’s support for terrorism.

With that being said, it is stunning that once again this Administration has demonstrated a lack of negotiating prowess and delivered another blow to U.S. taxpayers on the heels of its misguided and unnecessary purchase with taxpayer money of Iranian heavy water. The news in January 2016 that the United States delivered $1.7 billion on the day that four American hostages were released—an action that was apparently not connected with the JCPOA—and the recent Wall Street Journal report that confirmed $400 million of that sum was secretly paid in cash, including Swiss francs, U.S. dollars, and Euros, stretches the imagination, is utterly outrageous, and sets a dangerous precedent. Our own State Department reported in June 2016 that “Iran remained the foremost state sponsor of terrorism in 2015,”[1] and because of this cash transfer, the United States is now a direct party to Iran’s nefarious activities, which very likely will result in the killing of our troops in the field along with an unknown number of innocents. 

While the Iranian government certainly had the right to ask for the return of pre-1979 funds as a part of bilateral discussions, for the United States to agree to the payment, plus interest – and in cash – and for it to have been delivered when our hostages were released is beyond belief. Despite the Administration’s claims that the $1.7 billion payment was not a ransom, it was conveniently transferred on the day the hostages were freed, and we still do not know the status or whereabouts of the longest held American hostage in U.S. history, Robert Levinson. These actions have put a price on the head of every American by directly rewarding Iran for its hostage-taking enterprise.

I respectfully request that you provide answers to the following questions within 30 days of the date of this letter:

  1. Where is Robert Levinson, and what is the United States doing to get him back?
  1. Why did you agree to send cash to the world’s foremost number one state sponsor of terrorism? Did Iran request cash? What was the basis for this request? 
  1. Was the pre-1979 Iranian money for military equipment kept in an interest-bearing account? If yes, in what account was the money held, and at what rate did it accrue interest? If not, in what account was the money held, and what method of calculation did you use to arrive at the total of $1.7 billion?
  1. Was any portion of the $1.7 billion U.S. taxpayer funds or derived from U.S. taxpayer funds? If so, from what account did these funds come? Is the account subject to congressional appropriations?
  1. Was any portion of the $1.7 billion borrowed? If so, from whom was the money borrowed, and what are the terms and conditions? 
  1. How was the $400 million cash payment assembled, namely where and by whom? How and by whom was it delivered?
  1. What U.S. laws did you use to design and craft the $400 million cash payment?
  1. Did the Administration take efforts to apprise Congress of the $400 million cash payment transaction?  If so, when and how?
  1. Does current U.S. law prohibit the United States from providing dollars to Iran or facilitating foreign exchange on or offshore?
  2. What public or classified reporting obligations do you have in relation to the $400 million cash payment?
  3. Who was the lead U.S. negotiator to Iran on the $400 million cash payment?
  1. Did the President issue a finding on the $400 million cash payment, and did he directly approve the transaction?  Did you directly approve the transaction?
  1. As you know, with leadership from House Foreign Affairs Chairman Ed Royce and Rep. Pat Meehan, we have worked in Congress to ensure the payment of nearly $45 billion owed to the American victims of Iran-sponsored terror attacks. What has steps has your Department undertaken to ensure the award of these adjudicated claims?

[1] U.S. Department of State, Country Reports on Terrorism 2015, June 2, 2016, at 10.

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