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Zarif's Legal Prosecution Cancelled As MPs Give Him Support

Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif delivers a speech over the a bill to counter terrorist financing to the parliament in Tehran, October 7, 2018

Iranian Parliament’s National Security and Foreign Policy Commission has rejected a proposal to take Foreign Minister Javad Zarif’s case to the Judiciary for his recent comments on massive money laundering operations by some institutions in Iran.

On November 11, Zarif had said that those who profit billions of dollars from money laundering are spending millions of it to prevent the passage of bills requiring more financial transparency in Iran.

After Zarif’s comments, Iran’s conservatives unleashed a campaign against the foreign minister, culminating in a move for his impeachment. Many of Zarif’s colleagues and others came to his defense, insisting that money laundering does in fact exist in Iran.

The atmosphere was tense for a week until most of those MPs who had signed the request for his impeachment began to withdraw their support for the move. As a result, ultraconservative MPs, opposed to Zarif and his boss President Hassan Rouhani proposed to take the foreign minister’s case to Iran’s Judiciary.

On Sunday, Ali Najafi Khoshroodi the spokesman of parliament’s National Security Commission announced that members of the Commission are opposed to bringing complaints against Zarif’s money-laundering claims to the Judiciary.

Zarif had leveled accusations of vast money-laundering operations against unnamed state-owned institutions in a bid to urge the lawmakers to swiftly pass a series of four bills proposed by the Rouhani administration to align Iran’s legislation with required international standards against money laundering and financial support for terrorism.

The international Financial Action Task Force or FATF has demanded that Iran should fall in line or it would be penalized as a pariah state having no access to proper banking relations and international credits.

Rouhani's proposals, if adopted, would pave the way for the country to meet FATF requirements -- as well as those of the United Nations Convention Against Transnational Organized Crime (UNTOC), Combatting the Financing of Terrorism (CFT), and the United Nations Office of Drugs and Crimes -- in the hope of reducing international pressure on Iran’s deteriorating economy.

Despite the decision not to pursue a legal case against Zarif, opposition to President Rouhani's four proposals (collectively known as the Palermo Bills in Iran) has not yet died down.

Many prominent Friday Prayer Leaders, who are all appointed by the Islamic Republic's Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and known to reflect his positions have repeatedly denounced the passage of the Palermo Bills.

Tehran's interim Friday Prayer Leader, mid-ranking cleric Kazem Seddighi, who had earlier called the bills "humiliating", insisted on Friday, December 14, that the endorsement of the bills equals "self-imposed sanctions".

Claiming that Iran has been capable of bypassing U.S. sanctions, Seddighi maintained, “Joining FATF will increase the enemy's information about our banking sources."

With the decision of parliament's National Security and Foreign Policy commission, Zarif, at least for the moment, is not vulnerable to attacks by conservative MPs', but, it is yet to be seen whether the hardline Judiciary would independently follow up the foreign minister’s case, or not.

FATF has given Tehran until February to either endorse UNTOC or be added to its blacklist of countries refusing to cooperate in the fight against money laundering and financing terrorism. The International Monetary Fund is urging Tehran to endorse the bills.

Iran and North Korea are the only countries on the FATF blacklist, but the Paris-based organization has suspended countermeasures against Tehran while it works on reforms.