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Former Minister's Son-In-Law On Trial For Corruption Flees Iran

Ali-Ashraf Riahi, son-in-law of former Industries Minister Mohammad-Reza Nematzadeh, defending himself at court in April 2019 against corruption charges.

The son-in-law of former industries minister who was on trial in a 6.6 billion euro corruption case has used a "different passport" to flee the country, a judge announced in court on Monday.

Judge Assadollah Masoudi-Moqaddam had announced in the previous session of the trial that the court was in possession of evidence against Ali-Ashraf Riahi and that he was in Iran but was "at large".

According to judicial authorities, four other defendants in the case have also escaped to unknown locations.

It is common in major corruption cases in Iran for defendants to flee the country. The reason can be the that people in position of power who engage in corrupt acts are well-connected and probably use their high-level ties to leave the country and often find safe haven in the West.

Judge Masoudi-Moqaddam also said Riahi and another defendant, Marjan Sheikholeslami, were going to testify against each other and the court asked them to stop "threatening and harassing judicial authorities" and "reimburse the funds stolen from the national coffers".

Riahi who was charged with large scale disruption in the economic system and acquiring unlawful wealth denied all the charges in the ninth session of the trial in April 2019.

The sensational corruption case with several defendants involves the Petrochemical Commercial Company (PCC) established in July 1990 as the international trade arm of the Iranian petrochemical industry.

In 2015 PCC was awarded as one of the five top exporters in the country and the sole top exporter of petrochemical products.

The top defendant in the case, Reza Hamzelou, allegedly benefited from the existence of international sanctions and difficulty of making foreign payments and made massive sums in the process of making transactions on behalf of the PCC.

Based on prosecution accusations and statements by other judicial officials, the accused failed to reimburse government companies in hard currency. Instead, they kept the currencies, paid the government the equivalent in the local rial, and made a profit from exchanging the currencies when exchange rates were higher.

In the Monday session, Judge Masoudi-Moqaddam also said Hamzelou, had purchased real estate in Canada on behalf of Marjan Sheikholeslami, another defendant, and made currency payments to two companies owned by his own son and brother.

It is not possible for Radio Farda to independently verify claims made by Iran's judicial officials.

In one instance he made a 36-million-euro personal gain from transactions worth 380 million euro through two companies registered and based in Turkey that were established to circumvent U.S. sanctions.

The two companies were headed by Marjan Sheikholeslami who allegedly made more than 7 million euros for herself in the process of the transfers.

Nematzadeh's daughter Zeynaab who is married to Riahi was also involved in another corruption case – Rasa Pharmaceutical Development Company -- along with her sister Shabnam.

Both sisters were members of the board of directors of the company. Shabnam Nematzadeh was sentenced to 20 years in prison and 74 lashes for "causing disruption in the economic system" and hoarding pharmaceutical products.

A report prepared and published by former anti-corruption lawmaker Ahmaad Tavakoli in 2016 said the former Industries Minister's wife and his two daughters held positions such as managing director, chairperson, deputy chairperson, and board member in 10 different petrochemical companies.

Nematzadeh who is an influential figure in Iran's petrochemical industries is currently an advisor to the Oil Minister Bijan Namdar-Zanganeh.

The former minister appeared on a state-run television program on July 30 and denied the allegations against himself and his family. He claimed that he had not been aware of his daughter's activities that led to her conviction.

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    Maryam Sinaiee

    Maryam Sinaiee is a British-Iranian journalist, political analyst and former correspondent of The National, who contributes to Radio Farda.