All people accused of “looting” a credit and financial institution in Iran have been freed on bail, a justice department official announced in Tehran.
Samen al-Hojaj is a bankrupt credit and financial institution that was taken over by the private Parsian Bank.
According to an outspoken conservative figure and former MP, Ahmad Tavakkoli, most of Samen al-Hojaj customers - who borrowed huge sums of money from it and never paid back - are veteran judges and the children of prominent political and clergy figures.
Tavakkoli had threatened on November 28 to publicly disclose the names of the borrowers if the debts were not repaid.
“The managing director of Samen al-Hojaj has a lot of influence. He’s so powerful that he even managed to get an arrest warrant for the Central Bank of Iran's former governor, Mahmoud Bahmani (2008-2013),” Tavakkoli told reporters.
“Corrupt individuals attract and multiply people of their caliber,” the former MP remarked.
In the last decade, many credit unions or associations have sprung up in Iran, some without a banking license and proper supervision, promising high interests to people and attracting a lot of deposits.
The managing director of Samen al-Hojaj [bankrupt credit institution] has a lot of influence. He’s so powerful that he even managed to get an arrest warrant for the Central Bank of Iran's former governor.
Many of these financial institutions reach insolvency, either through reckless investments or handing out huge loans, often under suspicious circumstances.
More than two weeks after Tavakkoli’s threatening comments, Tehran’s Penal Court’s deputy announced on Wednesday, December 14, that all the accused have been freed, on bail.
Tasnim News Agency, run by the Islamic Revolution Guardian Corps (IRGC), cited Mohsen Eftekhari as saying, “The time for their trial has not been set, yet. The investigative procedure on the case against Samen al-Hojaj borrowers is currently underway”.
If what Tavakkoli says is true about the strong connections the accused have, it is not certain that the legal case will proceed in a timely fashion and will have a clear conclusion.
Nearly fifty complainants have already registered their names for a part of the case, while other related parts are still under initial investigation, Eftekhari said without further elaboration.
However, since some of Samen al-Hojaj depositors have received their capital and interest, it is highly unlikely to see the number of the complainants grow, Eftekhari maintained.
The bankrupt credit institution’s caretaker, Parsian Bank had earlier announced in a statement that it is set to repay the depositors of the insolvent lender by prioritizing small depositors on a timetable designed for the purpose.
Samen al-Hojaj was launched in 2001 under the name of Samen al-Hojaj Cooperative for the Educated and soon expanded into a financial empire.
It began operations as a credit institution in 2007. The private institution had 550 branches across the country, twice the number of an average Iranian private commercial bank. There was no information on the company’s stakeholders on its website.
However, according to the Iran Students News Agency (ISNA), Samen al-Hojaj went bankrupt after heavily investing in the housing market that soon suffered from stagnation.
The managing director of the institution, Abolfazl Mir-Ali, held membership on the boards of directors at the Iran National Oil Company and a gas and petrochemical company where former Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki and Mohammad Hassan Khamenei, one of the brothers of the Islamic republic’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, have seats.
Earlier, several conservatives close to Khamenei had accused Hassan Rouhani’s presidential campaign of borrowing money from Samen al-Hojaj.
Samen al-Hojaj is reportedly the second big-name quasi-lender to collapse in Iran, triggering new difficulties for the regulator and the banking industry already struggling under the heavy burden of soured and restructured loans, Financial Tribune reported.
A significant number of financial and credit institutions have recently gone bankrupt in Iran, forcing depositors to hold protest rallies demanding their money back.
Most of these gatherings are staged by people who claim they are victims of systematic deception and fraud by these credit institutions. They say their assets have been either plundered or they have received no interest for their deposits as promised by these institutions.