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Former Minister Given 20 Years For Financial Crimes

Parviz Kazemi, Minister of Labor and Social Welfare (2005-2006) in former President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's first cabinet. He was convicted of financial fraud on March 18, 2019. File photo

A fast-track court set up last year in Iran to fight financial crimes has sentenced three former Bank Sarmaye (Capital Bank) board members to twenty years in prison each.

Ali Bakhshayesh, Mohammad Reza Tavassoli, and former Labor and Social Welfare Minister Parviz Kazemi were each also sentenced to 74 lashes in public and were banned from serving in government positions.

The verdict will be officially delivered to the defendants tonight, the presiding judge, Assadollah Massoudi Maqam, told reporters March 18.

The “special courts” were established in August 2018 after Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei demanded “swift and just” legal action be taken against those accused of financial crimes. The verdicts issued by the courts, save the death penalty, are final and cannot be appealed.

Parviz Kazemi, 62, was in charge of the Ministry of Labor and Social Welfare (2005-2006) in hardline former President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's first cabinet. He began working in banking after he resigned from his post in 2006.

During the hearings, Kazemi admitted that thirty million euros (approximately $34 million) was deposited in his wife's account but maintained that the sum was paid in exchange for the consultancy work done for a South Korean company.

The hardline politician was also accused of granting 46 illegal loans, approximately $600,000 in total. 41 of the loans are not traceable and the money cannot be recovered, the prosecution told the court.

It was also revealed during the trial that Kazemi gained a seat on the board of directors of a company called Steel Azin by granting a six trillion rial (roughly $143 million) loan to an investor Hossein Hedayati. The investor only returned $2.9 million of the loan, having squandered the rest. Hedayati is currently under trial in another branch of the special courts for economic corruption.

The Prosecutor-General's representative to the court, Rasoul Qahraman, described Bank Sarmayeh's violations as "super corruption," involving at least 400 identified suspects.

The trial for another suspect in the case, Mohammad Hadi Razavi, will be held after the Iranian New Year holidays. (March 21-April 3), Judge Massoudi Maqam said, adding, "The files against other suspects have not been delivered to the investigative court, yet."

Based on the indictment, the most important charge against the three men convicted Monday was the mismanagement of 140 trillion rials (approximately $3.5 billion) in the Teachers Reserve Fund (TRF). With 47 percent of shares, the TRF is Sarmayeh Bank’s principal shareholder.

Retired teachers protests in Iran for lost pensions. December 2018
Retired teachers protests in Iran for lost pensions. December 2018

The fund has 800,000 members, all employed by the Education Ministry, who receive annual interest based on their monthly deposits. The prosecutor says 150 trillion rials (roughly $3.6 billion) of the fund's assets went missing as a result of fraud committed by the three defendants.

Had Razavi, the son-in-law of the current Minister of Cooperatives, Labor, and Social Welfare, Mohammad Shariatmadari, is also implicated in the case, as is Mohammad Emami, producer of the popular TV program Shahrzad.

Currently, at least ten trials concerning economic corruption are under way in the special courts, including cases involving financial institutions and petrochemical companies.

Iran’s Vice President, Es’haq Jahangiri, admitted on state-run media last year that financial corruption in Iran reaches to the country’s top officials.

“The fight against corruption needs impartiality, free from factional interests,” Jahangiri told IRNA August 18.

Jahangiri mentioned Ahmadinejad’s Vice President Mohammad Reza Rahimi as well as his Deputy for Executive Affairs Hamid Baqaei, both of whom are serving prison terms for corruption, as examples of graft reaching the highest levels of government.

However, some of the closest allies of current President Hassan Rouhani and his vice president have also been questioned about possible corruption, including Rouhani’s brother, Hossein Fereydoun, and Jahangiri’s brother Mehdi.