Iran, France to swap Iranian engineer, French academic

DUBAI (Reuters) - Iran and France have agreed to swap a French academic held on security charges and an Iranian detained by Paris over alleged violations of U.S. sanctions against Tehran, Iranian state media reported on Friday.

France has released Jalal Ruhollahnejad, an Iranian engineer wanted by U.S. authorities over sanctions charges, state broadcaster IRIB said on its website.

“Roland Gabriel Marchal, who was sentenced to five years’ imprisonment for acting against national security ... had his sentence reduced and was released from prison today and handed over to the French embassy in Tehran,” IRIB also reported.

France had demanded that Iran release Marchal, a senior researcher at Sciences Po university whose arrest was reported by Paris in mid-October.

The French Foreign Ministry and the presidential palace declined to comment. The released Iranian’s lawyer did not respond to text messages.

There had been talk of an exchange being discussed, but French officials had refused to comment directly, saying only that there had been progress in recent days.

In May, a French court approved the extradition of Rouhollahnejad to the United States to face charges of attempting to illegally import U.S. technology for military purposes on behalf of an Iranian company which U.S. officials said was linked to the elite Revolutionary Guards.

The detentions have complicated ties between the two countries during a period when French President Emmanuel Macron was seeking to defuse tensions between Washington and Tehran.

Iran Revolutionary Guards have arrested dozens of dual nationals in recent years, mostly on espionage charges. The detentions have coincided with a protracted standoff with Western powers prompted by a U.S. decision to withdraw from an international agreement to curb Iranian nuclear activities.

Rights activists have accused Iran of arresting the dual nationals and foreign citizens in an attempt to win concessions from other countries - a charge that the Islamic Republic has regularly dismissed.

Reporting by Dubai newsroom and John Irish in Paris; Editing by Gareth Jones and Leslie Adler