Still no answers in former FBI Agent Robert Levinson's disappearance in Iran

Christine Levinson, at lectern, the wife of former FBI Agent Robert Levinson, left, is searching for answers in her husband’s disappearance in Iran. He has been missing since a March 2007 business trip. In February, Sen. Bill Nelson, above right, asked Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton to take up the case with the Iranians.

Associated Press

Christine Levinson, at lectern, the wife of former FBI Agent Robert Levinson, left, is searching for answers in her husband’s disappearance in Iran. He has been missing since a March 2007 business trip. In February, Sen. Bill Nelson, above right, asked Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton to take up the case with the Iranians.

It has been almost two years since retired FBI Agent Robert Levinson vanished on a business trip to Iran.

Levinson was investigating a cigarette smuggling case for private clients when he disappeared March 9, 2007, on Kish Island in the Persian Gulf, his family says. He had left his hotel and was on his way to catch a flight home to South Florida.

Levinson's case languished for most of the last two years, a victim of three decades of broken diplomatic relations between the United States and Iran.

Now, the family is hoping a fresh administration in Washington can get results. They want the Obama administration to pressure Iran to find out what happened to the Coral Springs father of seven.

Florida's Sen. Bill Nelson and Rep. Robert Wexler have also filed a joint resolution in Congress calling for Iran to cooperate and provide information about the former agent. The resolution would require that the Obama administration raise Levinson's case "at every opportunity" in talks about Iran.

Nelson says he believes Levinson is being held by the Iranian government in a secret prison, and urged Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton at her confirmation hearing last month to take up the case.

Iran's justice system repeated denials on Tuesday that it was holding Levinson.

"We do not have anyone with this name in our prisons, no cases have been formed in prisons or by judicial authorities," judiciary spokesman Ali Reza Jamshidi told reporters.

Levinson wasn't one to shy away from tough cases, those who worked with him say. While he was at the FBI, he led the bureau's Colombian drug task force, investigating leaders of the Medellin and Cali drug cartels.

He retired from the FBI in 1998 to set up his own private investigation business.

Resolving the Levinson case could be a good starting point for defrosting U.S.-Iranian relations, some officials argue. Newsweek magazine recently quoted unnamed U.S. intelligence officials as saying Iran "might be open to releasing Levinson" in return for three Iranians seized by U.S. military forces in Iraq.

His wife, Christine Levinson, and the couple's children, aged 15 to 31, just want him home.

"I feel it's very important that nobody forget about Bob," she said in a phone interview. "Politics is not my game. But I believe that the Iranians have the ability to find Bob and bring him home to me."

Levinson's wife traveled to Iran in 2007 to retrace his steps. She interviewed some of the last people who saw him on Kish Island, a small, pearl-shaped tourist resort and free-trade zone that sits off the Iranian coast.

He last spoke to his family on March 8, 2007, and is known to have checked out of his hotel the next day for a taxi ride to the airport to fly home.

He never boarded the plane, and no trace of him has been found since.

Iranian officials told her at the time that an investigation was ongoing and they would stay in touch. But she never heard back. The Levinson family has never accused Iran of any involvement in his disappearance, but they suspect information is being withheld.

A breakthrough could depend on how far the Obama administration is willing to go to repair relations with Iran.

Diplomatic relations with Tehran were severed three decades ago after 52 American diplomats were held as hostages in the aftermath of the 1979 Iranian Revolution.

At Clinton's confirmation hearing, Nelson suggested Levinson's case provided a "good first opportunity" to open a new dialogue with the Tehran government of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

Clinton agreed it would be an "extraordinary opportunity" for Iran to release Levinson, or permit contact with him.

The Obama administration was interested in pursuing a new Iran policy "toward engagement, carefully constructed," she said.

That leads the Levinson family to be more hopeful.

"I never believed we would be approaching the second anniversary of his disappearance," said Christine Levinson. "It's extremely difficult."

On a personal note

I got to know Bob Levinson in 2002 when he was working as a private investigator. He generously agreed to help me piece together a complicated Colombian drug case he had worked on that was bedeviling prosecutors. His knowledge was crucial in helping me unravel parts of the case.

On the Web

To learn more, visit the Web site created by the Levinson family:

helpboblevinson.com.

Still no answers in former FBI Agent Robert Levinson's disappearance in Iran 02/17/09 [Last modified: Tuesday, February 17, 2009 10:06pm]

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