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Defendants In Iran Petrochemicals Corruption Case Say They Obeyed Religious Edicts

The third court session on charges against defendants in the corruption case of Iran's petrochemicals exports. April 10, 2019.

During the sixth session of what has been branded as the largest financial corruption trial in Iranian history, the attorney representing several managers of Iran’s Petrochemical Commercial Company (PCC) stated that his clients had “merely obeyed” religious edicts by circumventing international sanctions imposed on Iran.

Earlier, on March 13, 2018, the National Iranian Petrochemical Industries Company (NIPIC) announced in an official statement that PCC “has failed to return 500 million euros of debt to NIPIC since 2013.”

The statement also asserted that managers of PCC paid the government for oil exports in local currency instead of euros, pocketing illegal profits in the process. The suspects allegedly kept the foreign currency gained from exports in their own accounts and pocketed the interest. Fourteen people have been charged in the case.

The prime suspects are the former Director-General of NIPIC, Reza Hamzehlou; a former member the company’s board of directors; the Director-General of the Iran Investment Company (IIC), Abbas Samimi; and twelve others.

Samimi’s attorney affirmed on Tuesday, April 23 that, “His Eminence, the Supreme Leader [of the Islamic Republic, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei] insisted that [Iranian] youth would circumvent the sanctions. [Therefore] even if one studies the comment on the basis of religion, they will recognize that my clients obeyed a Shari’a’ edict [issued by Khamenei].”

Referring to Khamenei as the highest authority in the country’s political affairs, the attorney further argued that, “They [the accused] obeyed the order of their superior. They served [the country] with their inherent flair and creativity in circumventing the sanctions, and if they committed a crime, the imposition of [current] sanctions will show how my clients were right in avoiding sanctions.”

The attorney, who has not been officially identified, also asserted that, “To protect the government’s hard currency assets, we reminded the authorities, in several communications at the time, to be vigilant in order to prevent the Public Treasury from suffering a loss, but they did not take us seriously and instead exchanged the proceeds into rial [Iran’s national currency] at market rates. [Therefore] the PPC did not gain a penny from the deal.”

However, according to the state-run Iran Students News Agency (ISNA), the representative of the Prosecutor to the court, named only as “Hosseini,” was not convinced and fired back, stating, “You did not fulfill your commitments, and your performance blocked the procedure of generating 6.5 million euros (approximately $7.3 million) of hard currency.”

Out of the fourteen on trial, three of the accused are living abroad and are being tried in absentia, but according to Judge Massoudi, their legal counsels are present at the hearings.

The prime suspect, Reza Hamzehlou, along with Ms. Sheikholeslami Al-e Aqa, who lives in Canada is accused of establishing several front companies in Turkey and ordering several others to launch pseudo-corporations to circumvent the international sanctions imposed on Tehran.

Marjan Sheikholeslami Al-e Aqa previously worked as a journalist for the government’s official news agency, IRNA, and pro-reform daily Hambastegui. She has been living in Canada since 2009 and has categorically denied the charges against her.

She released a statement on March 16 saying that all of the activities of her companies in Iran and Turkey were “legal.”

She added that her companies “had nothing to do with money laundering and making a profit out of sanctions.”

The trial began precisely one day after Iran’s Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Khamenei, appointed the ultraconservative mid-ranking cleric Ebrahim Raisi as the head of the judiciary.

Allegations of corruption in Iran are nothing new. According to the GAN Business Anti-Corruption Portal, “While there are multiple laws in place that criminalize various forms of corruption in both the public and private sectors [in Iran], they are not effectively enforced in practice and impunity is pervasive.”