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Prosecutor-General Accuses Officials of Smuggling

Currency being smuggled captured by Iranian customs. File photo
Currency being smuggled captured by Iranian customs. File photo

Iranian Prosecutor-General has accused Iranian officials and their children of being involved in smuggling merchandise and foreign hard currencies into and out of the country.

However, Mohammad Ja’far Montazeri, speaking on December 18, stopped short of naming the culprits, but he alleged that President Hassan Rouhani’s government has been soft on smuggling.

Nevertheless, his comments can be seen as a response to President Hassan Rouhani and his close allies, who have repeatedly accused their political opponents of smuggling.

“A corrupt apparatus capable of smuggling contraband into Iran is also responsible for blocking the country’s path toward progress,” Rouhani said in 2015.

The reason for the high volume of merchandise and currency smuggling in Iran is the country’s draconian rules, restrictions and high customs duties and tariffs.

Not only contraband, such as alcoholic drinks are forbidden to import and sell, but consumer products, from electronics to cloths and cars are subject to restrictive rules and customs duties.

Respecting a well-established tradition, Rouhani, his allies and his opponents avoid naming the officials, entities, organizations, and apparatuses they accuse of corruption.

Montazeri also said, “How can we expect success in fighting smugglers when we see that a number of officials and their relatives, along with those who are expected to combat trafficking, are indeed themselves actively involved in smuggling?”

Still without naming names, Montazari maintained, “Some government officials do not really want us to have a serious fight against smugglers. Therefore, the Central Task Force to Combat the Smuggling of Merchandise and Currency (CTFCS) has been practically shut down.”

In 2016, the overall volume of goods smuggled into Iran amounted to $15.5 billion, according to CTFCS spokesman Qassem Khorshidi, cited on the Tasnim News website. That number has now shrunk by almost $3 billion, he said.

Later, a senior member of Iran’s parliament accused Rouhani’s government of being involved in smuggling. “A number of governmental institutions are directly or indirectly involved in smuggling,” Hassan Norouzi, spokesman for the parliament’s Judiciary Committee, maintained on July 1.

In an interview with Fars News Agency (FNA), a website close to the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), Norouzi added that some ministers are involved in smuggling to run companies and factories. Norouzi also accused the daughter of a Rouhani cabinet minister of smuggling.

Norouzi was apparently referring to Rouhani’s education minister, Fakhruddin Ahmadi Danesh-Ashtiani, whose daughter was accused of smuggling Italian contraband garments into Iran. She was later officially acquitted of all charges.

Moreover, Danesh-Ashtiani was dismissed and replaced by Mohammad Bathaei in Rouhani’s new cabinet.

Rouhani’s supporters have repeatedly fired back.

Rouhani has been forced to personally rebuff accusations against his administration and implicitly blame the IRGC.

The war of words between the rival political factions -- namely the government versus the close allies of Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei -- has been going on for years. Rouhani’s predecessor, Mahmud Ahmadinejad, also accused the IRGC of smuggling, referring to them as “our own smuggler brethren.”

Rouhani’s allies have insisted that the annual volume of smuggling in Iran ($25 billion during Ahmadinejad’s presidency) has been halved in the past four years.

Smuggling merchandise into Iran has recently become a symbol of corruption and one of the most serious economic problems confronting the country. Khamenei recently ordered police forces to set fire to all contraband goods they discover.