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Wife goes to Iran to find missing U.S. man

December 18, 2007|Borzou Daragahi | Times Staff Writer

TEHRAN — The wife of an American businessman who disappeared during a trip to Iran in March is scheduled to arrive here tonight to look for her husband, said Western diplomats and the man's family.

Robert Levinson, a 59-year-old former FBI agent turned private investigator, came to Kish Island on March 8 to search for information about contraband and counterfeit tobacco products. At some point, the Coral Springs, Fla., resident disappeared.

Iranian officials have told U.S. officials and Levinson's family that they have no idea where he is.

"I have no information about his welfare at all," said Christine Levinson, 57, whose son and sister are to accompany her.

"It's been very difficult," she said by telephone from Miami while awaiting her flight. "Every day it gets more difficult, especially now with the holidays. I'm hoping for a Christmas miracle and I'll be able to bring him home with me."

Western diplomats in Tehran say the Swiss Embassy has organized meetings between the Levinson family and top officials. The Swiss pursue Washington's interests in Iran in the absence of formal relations between the Islamic Republic and the U.S.

Levinson said her husband had investigated counterfeiting and smuggling of tobacco on behalf of several companies in the U.S., South America and Europe.

Robert Levinson left Dubai in the United Arab Emirates on March 8 for Kish Island, a free trade zone that admits everyone but Israeli passport holders.

He was scheduled to stay less than 24 hours. His wife began to worry when she didn't hear from him and raised the alarm when he didn't show up in London on March 10, as scheduled.

As the weeks dragged on, the Levinson family started a website, helpboblevinson.com, to draw attention to the missing father of seven and began asking contacts to help find him.

His wife, son and sister-in-law obtained visas through the Iranian interests section in Washington, which operates under the umbrella of the Pakistani Embassy. They plan to fly to Kish to retrace Levinson's steps. The family is to leave Iran on Dec. 23.

"If we have any information that we need to follow up on, of course, that can change," Christine Levinson said.

This was the first time Levinson had visited the Middle East, she said.

"Every day I wake up hoping that today will be the day that he will come home," said his wife. "But that hasn't happened, so I spend the rest of the day trying to find him and figure out a way to bring him home."

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daragahi@latimes.com

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