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In Anti-Corruption Drive, A Billionaire Will Be 'Definitely' Hanged

Iranian tycoon, Babak Zanjani during a court hearing in his embezzlement trial. The sign in Persian says, "The seat for the accused".
Iranian tycoon, Babak Zanjani during a court hearing in his embezzlement trial. The sign in Persian says, "The seat for the accused".

The Islamic Republic’s Prosecutor-General says the death sentence against Iranian billionaire Babak Zanjani will “definitely” be carried out.

Zanjani was arrested in 2013 on charges of embezzling state oil revenues and later convicted to be hanged.

The prosecutor, Mohammad Jafar Montazeri, also insisted that the judges assigned to preside over financial trials, including Babak Zanjani’s, are primarily concerned with the return of the lost assets to the public treasury.

Zanjani has not yet been executed, Montazeri argued, since the judges are seeking ways to force him to return public assets.

But the timing of this announcement coincides with a recent order by the Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei to get tough with corruption, which has played a big role in propelling people to stage large protests against the regime.

Babak Zanjani (C), during his heydays.
Babak Zanjani (C), during his heydays.

In 2016, the Islamic Republic’s Supreme Court upheld the death sentence against Zanjani who worked as a middleman, selling Iranian oil through companies, mainly affiliated with the Islamic Revolution Guards Corps (IRGC), in the years when international sanctions restricted Iran oil exports and banking relations, during Ahmadineja’s second term, 2009-2013.

Prior to Zanjani’s case, Iran’s private sector had not played a significant role in the country’s lucrative oil business.

Under international sanctions, ultraconservative President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, with Ayatollah Ali Khamenei’s blessing, allowed the private sector, as well as security organizations such as the police to sell oil in international markets, as proxy to the embattled Islamic Republic of Iran.

The result was a total fiasco. The level of corruption and mismanagement involved in this enterprise was unprecedented in modern Iranian history. The ensuing judicial cases that followed this major attempt to circumvent sanctions, continue five years after Ahmadinejad left office.

The complicated operation involved money laundering in several countries in Central Asia as well as elsewhere including Turkey, the United Arab Emirates, Malaysia and even the United States, Radio Farda reported.

Several individuals had to stand trial in Iran, Turkey and the United States for just one of the cases. In Iran, billionaire Babak Zanjani who allegedly ran a worldwide network of money laundering became the star of the trials, overnight.

Babak Zanjani is currently facing the death sentence as the government alleges that he has not been able to pay the money he owed to the government as the middle man in oil sales. Zanjani allegedly stole $2.7 billion from oil sales during Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s presidency.

No one knows the real figure or how one person was able to embezzle so much money if he did not have collaborators inside the ruling elite.

Babak Zanjani, 42, is presumed as one of the richest men in Iran with an estimated fortune of $14 billion in 2013. Reportedly, the business tycoon owned 70 companies before his arrest.

The Prosecutor-General has described the death sentence against Zanjani as “irrevocable”, while the billionaire’s lawyer, Rassool Koohpayeh, had earlier suggested that his client would be able to benefit from Article 114 of the Islamic Penal Code, if he returns the public’s money.

President Hassan Rouhani’s Oil Ministry has accused Zanjani of receiving “one million barrels” of oil from Iran’s National Oil Company (NIOC) for more than $3 billion, but only payed back $190 million, pocketing the rest.

Zanjani’s debt was earlier estimated roughly as $1.8 billion. Nevertheless, Iran Oil Ministry officials have demanded a compensation for “damages”, as well.

Oil Minister, Bijan Namdar Zangeneh said last Saturday, “Zanjani’s total debt, including its interests, amounts to $3.5 billion.”

Babak Zanjani’s assets inside Iran, or one fifth of his debt, have been confiscated and surrendered to the Oil Ministry.