Minister clears way for assassin of Shah's last prime minister to return to Iran

France's Interior Minister signed an expulsion order yesterday that paved the way for the likely release of a man convicted of assassinating Shahpour Bakhtiar, a former prime minister of Iran.

A Paris court is due to rule today on Ali Vakili Rad's release from prison, where he has been serving a life sentence since 1994 for strangling and stabbing Bakhtiar. The 76-year-old exile was the last prime minister under Shah Mohammed Reza Pahlavi, who was toppled in the 1979 Islamic revolution.

Judges have already said they favour a conditional release as long as an expulsion order comes through. However, the final decision has been delayed twice. With the order in hand, Vakili Rad can theoretically fly directly to Iran once freed – less than two weeks after another Iranian detained in France on a US warrant was allowed to return to Tehran.

Washington wanted France to extradite Majid Kakavand for allegedly evading export controls to purchase technology over the internet and sell it on to Iran's military.

The Interior Minister, Brice Hortefeux, signed Vakili Rad's expulsion order the day after Clotilde Reiss, a young French teacher who had been held in Iran for 10 months accused of spying for France, returned home.

French authorities deny there is a link between these cases.