In a high-profile corruption trial in Iran the wife of a governor stands accused of taking $200,000 in bribes from the CEO of a company that refused to pay its workers for months and then police brutally suppressed their protests.
The trial of the CEO of the Haft Tappeh Sugarcane Agro-Industrial Complex, Omid Assadbeigi, is being held behind closed doors, and some conservative media outlets in Iran, including Daneshjoo News Agency, have published details of the proceedings.
However, when the governor, Gholam Reza Shariati, was asked for a comment, he refused to respond, and merely said, "The moon will not remain behind the clouds. Wait a while and, God willing, everything will be clarified," the state-run Iran Students News Agency (ISNA) reported on Saturday, May 23.
After the second court hearing, on May 19, the media reported that Omid Asadbeigi paid $200,000 to the governor's wife through an intermediary and also paid $20,000 for the travels of the governor’s family.
Omid Asadbeigi is the top defendant in a case involving violations of rules governing the allotment of cheap foreign currencies by the government to businesses. Along with twenty other suspects, Assadbeigi is accused of "disrupting the country's currency and monetary system through major currency smuggling and unauthorized transactions using government's discounted hard currencies.
The Haft Tappeh Sugarcane agro-industrial complex was privatized in 2015. Workers at the complex said at the time that there had been several violations during the privatization process. Since then, their problems have intensified, with wages going unpaid for months and once a profitable factory losing money. The workers held numerous protest gatherings that peaked in November and December 2018 and led to several arrests.
The government instead of intervening to legally resolve the issue of unpaid wages, sent in security forces and prosecutors to arrest and punish representatives of protesting workers.
Dozens of the company's workers and activists were arrested. Two of them, Esmaeil Bakhshi and Ms. Sepideh Qolyan were re-arrested after their initial release for accusing security forces of brutal torture. They spent months in jail under constant pressures by intelligence ministry agents.
"Omid Asadbeigi believes that anyone can be bought with money, and he has proved it by his actions," a conservative media activist who has been allowed to attend the hearing quoted the prosecutors as saying.
According to the same source, prosecutors also referred to some of the allegations made against Assadbeigi's financial ties "with the Islamic Republic's Attorney General and his son," the Minister of Agricultural Jihad Mahmoud Hojjati and Vice President, Es’haq Jahangiri.
However, some media outlets and activists close to the government and reformists maintain that partisan motives are behind the case involving the governor of Khuzestan and Assadbeigi.
A brief report broadcast by the state-run TV cited the Prosecutor's representative saying, "With receiving more than $1.4 billion of government currency, the suspects have set a new national record”.
The allusion is to many well-connected people applying for and receiving U.S. dollars from the government at a much lower rate than the market, ostensibly to import essential goods amid crippling U.S. sanctions. But in fact, there have been official accusations and many media reports that some of these businesses were just front companies for influential people who sold the cheaply bought dollars on the market and made huge profits. Some also imported luxury cars and other goods and made huge profits.