TEHRAN, Iran – President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad defused a growing confrontation with Britain, announcing the surprise release of 15 captive British sailors Wednesday and then gleefully accepting the crew’s thanks and handshakes in what he called an Easter gift. The 15 Britons arrived at the VIP section of Tehran’s airport early today in a convoy of sedans and boarded a British Airways flight to London. The crew, seated in business class, boarded after the other passengers had taken their seats, according to an Associated Press reporter at the scene. British Prime Minister Tony Blair expressed “profound relief” Wednesday over the peaceful end to the 13-day crisis. “Throughout we have taken a measured approach – firm but calm, not negotiating, but not confronting either,” Blair said in London, adding a message to the Iranian people that “we bear you no ill will.” The announcement in Tehran was a breakthrough in a crisis that had escalated over nearly two weeks, raising oil prices and fears of military conflict in the volatile region. The move to release the sailors suggested that Iran’s hard-line leadership decided it had shown its strength but did not want to push the standoff too far. Iran did not get the main thing it sought – a public apology for entering Iranian waters. Britain, which said its crew was in Iraqi waters when seized, insists it never offered a quid pro quo, either, instead relying on quiet diplomacy. Syria, Iran’s close ally, said it played a role in winning the release. “Syria exercised a sort of quiet diplomacy to solve this problem and encourage dialogue between the two parties,” Syrian Foreign Minister Walid al-Moallem said in Damascus. Several British newspapers credited Blair’s foreign policy adviser Nigel Sheinwald and Iranian chief negotiator Ali Larijani with laying the groundwork for an agreement during telephone contacts that began Tuesday night. Larijani had gone on British TV on Monday and signaled that Tehran was looking for a diplomatic solution. British officials were told to pay close attention to Ahmadinejad’s press conference but were unsure the release would come until they heard his words, The Independent newspaper said. Ahmadinejad timed the announcement so as to make a dramatic splash, springing it halfway through a two-hour news conference. The president first gave a medal of honor to the commander of the Iranian coast guards who captured the Britons, and admonished London for sending a mother, Leading Seaman Faye Turney, on such a dangerous mission in the Persian Gulf. He said the British government was “not brave enough” to admit the crew had been in Iranian waters when it was captured. Ahmadinejad then declared that even though Iran had the right to put the Britons on trial, he had “pardoned” them to mark the March 30 birthday of the Prophet Muhammad and the coming Easter holiday. “This pardon is a gift to the British people,” he said. After the news conference, Iranian television showed a beaming Ahmadinejad on the steps of the presidential palace shaking hands with the Britons – some towering over him. The men were decked out in business suits and Turney wore an Islamic head scarf. “Your people have been really kind to us, and we appreciate it very much,” one of the British men told Ahmadinejad in English. Another male service member said: “We are grateful for your forgiveness.” Ahmadinejad responded in Farsi, “You are welcome.” Three members of the crew were later interviewed on Iranian state-run television, apologizing for the alleged incursion into Iran’s waters and again thanking Ahmadinejad for their release. “I can understand why you’re insulted by the intrusion into the waters,” said Lt. Felix Carman, shown seated on a couch. “Thank you for letting us go and we apologize for our actions, but many thanks for having it in your hearts to let us go free,” Turney said. The breakthrough caught the British government by surprise. On Tuesday, Foreign Secretary Margaret Beckett cautioned reporters not to expect a quick end to the standoff. During the standoff, Iran broadcast footage of Turney and some other crew members “confessing” they had entered Iranian waters. An infuriated Britain froze most bilateral contacts, prompting Tehran to roll back on a pledge to free Turney. Wednesday’s announcement led some analysts to conclude that Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, decided the crisis had gone on long enough at a time when Tehran faces mounting pressure over its nuclear program.160Want local news?Sign up for the Localist and stay informed Something went wrong. Please try again.subscribeCongratulations! You’re all set!
A DONEGAL crimelord has made British criminal history – after being given the longest-ever prison sentence for waste crimes.One man crime machine Hugh O’Donnell was jailed for four years by judges at Isleworth Crown Court in England, who branded the gang leader’s offences ‘deliberate and calculated’.The sentencing brought a three-year investigation and prosecution by the British Environment Agency to a close. The EA shut down O’Donnell’s illegal operation, situated in Aldermaston, near Reading, in 2008 following a raid assisted by Thames Valley Police.The illegal dumping site was the size of five football pitches, piled with 65,000 tonnes of construction and demolition waste.The raid further uncovered weapons, including an unlicensed handgun and ammunition, stolen vehicles, plant equipment and more than Stg£50,000 in cash which were all seized by officers.GUNSO’Donnell was subsequently jailed for four and a half years in 2009 for possessing the illegal firearm.A day after his release last Thursday he was back in the dock to be sentenced for waste and money-laundering crimes relating to the illegal fly-tipping operation.The 64-year-old was sentenced to four years in prison for money-laundering and 22 months for waste offences.Judge Edmunds QC told him: “This was deliberate, calculated offending on an industrial scale for profit.“You carried on in the teeth of attempts to stop you, and with the clear intention of making as much criminal profit as you could before you were stopped.“The attitude shown to the enforcement authorities was dismissive and obstructive.”ACCOMPLICESO’Donnell’s accomplices, Robert Evans, 59, and Mayo-man Peter Lavelle, 28, received two years and 18 months respectively for money-laundering, and 14 months and 12 month respectively for waste offences – all to be served concur-rently.Environment Agency Solicitor, Angus Innes said: “O’Donnell’s illegal waste business netted millions of pounds in profit by taking skips or lorry loads of construction and demolition waste into the Aldermaston site to be dumped in an illegal landfill.“This investigation has been one of the biggest and most complex ever undertaken by the Environment Agency, using intelligence and forensic science to proactively target an organised criminal gang running an illegal waste site.”“This sentence sends out a message that waste crime is a serious offence and you can and will be sent to jail.”The EA’s crime teams used a range of forensic techniques, including DNA and handwriting analysis, fingerprinting and mobile phone and laptop interrogation, to track the gang members.Restraint orders, preventing the disposal of over £1m worth of assets gained by the gang, have been in place for the last two years and the EA will now proceed with an application to prevent the gang members from accessing their ill-gotten gains.Mr Innes said: “The Environment Agency wants to make sure that serious waste crime doesn’t pay – we don’t just catch criminals… we want to confiscate the assets they’ve gained from crime.”O’Donnell, Evans and Lavelle have also been banned from being company directors for 10, seven and seven years respectively.DONEGAL CRIME BOSS JAILED AFTER COPS SMASH MONEY-LAUNDERING SCAM was last modified: June 30th, 2011 by gregShare this:Click to share on Facebook (Opens in new window)Click to share on Twitter (Opens in new window)Click to share on LinkedIn (Opens in new window)Click to share on Reddit (Opens in new window)Click to share on Pocket (Opens in new window)Click to share on Telegram (Opens in new window)Click to share on WhatsApp (Opens in new window)Click to share on Skype (Opens in new window)Click to print (Opens in new window) Tags:donegalHugh O’Donnelljailed for 4 years