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Power Games In Iran Involve A Billionaire On Death Row

Babak Zanjani (L) appears during a court session and Iranian Minister of Petroleum Bijan Namdar Zangeneh. File photos

A parliamentary leader in Iran demands to know why a group of Iranian lawmakers would meet a billionaire in prison who is convicted of massive corruption.

A member of the board of directors of Iran’s parliament has called upon the Islamic Republic Judiciary to investigate meetings that he claims some of the country's legislators have recently had with Babak Zanjani, sentenced to death for embezzling billions of dollars of smuggled oil.

Citing one of President Hassan Rouhani's ministers, Alireza Rahimi tweeted on June 21, "Some of the members of parliament have recently met with Babak Zanjani behind bars."

Rahimi has not named the lawmakers who have allegedly met with the 45-year-old Zanjani but insisted, "It will be a good idea if the Judiciary briefs parliament's board of directors about these ambiguous meetings."

Zanjani was a middleman, selling Iranian oil through front companies, mainly affiliated with the Islamic Revolution Guards Corps (IRGC), in the years when international sanctions banned Iran oil exports and banking relations, during hardline President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's second term, 2009-2013.

These non-transparent operations led to many cases of embezzlement and misappropriation of state funds. Most of the financial corruption cases have something to do with failing or refusing to repatriate revenues from the illicit sale of oil and oil products.

In Late 2013, Babak Zanjani was arrested and accused of withholding $2.7 billion of oil ministry money. He was convicted of corruption, sentenced to death in 2016 and is currently awaiting execution.

Many Iranians believe that Zanjani is perhaps a "fall guy" for many corrupt officials and corruption schemes in Iran.

A senior official of Iran's Judiciary said on December 13, 2018, that the former tycoon will be executed after he returns what he owes the Islamic Republic.

While many ordinary criminals are swiftly put to death in Iran, Zanjani's sentence has not been carried out and there are many theories as to why it is being delayed.

Hadi Sadeqi, a deputy to the all-powerful Judiciary head told reporters that part of "Zanjani's money is abroad, and currently not possible to repatriate it," major Tehran news agencies reported at the time.

"People should not be impatient with carrying out Zanjani's death penalty. The Judiciary does not want to lose the connection to his assets abroad," Sadeqi asserted.

After months being out of the spotlight, Rahimi's tweet has once again highlighted the case of the controversial tycoon.

Reacting to the tweet, Zanjani's attorney has denied that his client met several MPs, noting, "There was only one meeting held in the presence of the representatives of the government, Ministry of Intelligence, National Iranian Oil Company (NIOC), and Tehran's deputy Prosecutor-General."

The meeting, the attorney has insisted, was held to follow up Zanjani's case, and discuss his debt to the NIOC, as well as studying ways to pay it back.

Meanwhile, a lawmaker named as one of the legislators who have allegedly met with Zanjani, has asserted that he knows nothing about such a meeting.

"I have not heard anything about a meeting between Zanjani and several MPs," conservative representative of the city of Najafabad to Majlis, Abolfazl Aboutorabi (Abu Torabi) affirmed.

Aboutorabi is the same member of parliament who claimed recently that intelligence agents had discovered three credit card readers with one trillion rials (approximately $23.7 million) cash flow, and some hard currencies in cash, as well as some gold at the oil minister's office.

The Ministry of Petroleum has dismissed Aboutorabi's allegations as baseless and has filed a legal complaint against him.

The oil minister Bijan Namdar Zanganeh belongs to President Hassan Rouhani’s political circle and a target for Iran’s hardliners. Several analysts believe that the imprisoned tycoon is being used or is playing a role in the latest string of attacks on the oil minister.