Social media activists lashed out on Iran’s Minister of Information and Communications Technology Mohammad Javad Azari Jahromi on Monday, June 25 after a list of companies that took advantage of the country’s chaotic foreign exchange market to pocket millions of dollars was published on the web.
Two major cellphone shopping complexes in the heart of the capital city, Tehran, took the center stage on Sunday, June 24, during widespread protests, against the chaotic forex market in Iran.
Aladdin and Charsou shopping area store owners demonstrated in downtown Tehran to voice their anger and protest the government for allocating millions of dollars in hard currency for importing cellphones to “cheating” and “corrupt” companies.
“Cheating companies received millions of dollars, based on the official rate (42,000 rials to one dollar), but, either saved the precious dollars or imported cellphones, selling them on the bases of free market currency rates (87,000 rials to one dollar),” the store owners protested.
While denouncing the rise of the U.S. dollar, the protesters called upon the Islamic Republic’s authorities to end their involvement in regional conflicts and focus on Iran’s economic plight.
The police, firing tear gas, intervened to disperse the protesters, reported reformist Jamaran news website.
A day after the widespread protests, the Minister of Information and Communications Technology (MICT), Mohammad Javad Azari Jahromi verified the claim on Monday, June 25, by announcing, “The government has provided several companies 220 million euros (roughly $258 million in cheap hard currency) to import cellphones, but less than one third of it was used for the purpose.”
Tasnim, a news website affiliated with the Islamic Revolution Guards Corps (IRGC), cited Azari Jahromi as saying on Monday, “Since the beginning of the Iranian new year (March 21), more than 220 million euros have been allocated to forty different companies to import cellphones; nevertheless, only 140,000 cellphones (57 million euros) have been imported, so far.”
Furthermore, MICT published the list of companies which have received euros at the official rate to import cellphones, yet most of them did not.
Azari Jahromi’s comments immediately triggered a barrage of criticism as the list was widely circulated on social media while activists demanded transparency on the identity of those who owned the companies and had received the foreign currency at the preferential rate.
“More dangerous and shameful than those, who receive currency at the official rate to import goods and selling them at the rate of dollar in the free market, are statesmen who pose as heroes by publishing the names of cheating companies after the game is over,” a critic bitterly tweeted.
“Jahromi waited for the cellphone retail shops to close down, and, then, step in to disclose the name of the companies that have received hard currency, based on official rate,” another tweet noted, demanding, “Regardless of when and how the cheating import companies are going to be held accountable; should one wait for other businesses to shut down for publishing the list of other cheating import companies?” referring to the fact that transparency might come at a price for activists.
The protests over the cellphone issue spilled over to the Grand Bazaar in Tehran when all stores closed and large crowds marched on parliament.