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Prime Suspect In Corruption Case Says He Helped Iran Circumvent Sanctions

The third court session in a large corruption case in Iran was held on Wednesday, April 10, 2019.

As one of the biggest corruption trials in Iran's history continues, the legal counsel to the prime suspect maintains that his client assisted the Islamic Republic in profiting from exporting petrochemicals, which was banned by UN sanctions.

The prime suspect is the former CEO of National Iranian Petrochemical Industries Company (NIPIC), Reza Hamzehlou, who was assisted in the alleged conspiracy by a member of the same company's board of directors, Abbas Samimi.

The case according to the prosecutor evolves around 13 suspects making personal profits while exporting government owned petrochemical products, when international sanctions banned Iran from such trades from 2011-2015.

The third session of the court hearings held on April 10 was presided over by judge Assadollah Massoudi, who announced that the money pocketed by Hamzehlou amounts to $8,710, 384.

While defending his client, the defense attorney insisted that Hamzehlou and Samimi were trying to help the regime gain benefits by circumventing international sanctions imposed on Tehran.

He claimed that the sole intention of his clients was to serve the regime, and they had no other choice, the attorney asserted, adding, "The suspects have deposited all hard currencies received for selling petrochemical products in the company's bank accounts. If they were after financial gains, they could have pocketed the whole amount."

Furthermore, he argued that the National Petrochemical Company (NIPIC) has declared that there is no overdue debts in foreign currencies on the part of the accused.

But there have been contradictory statements all throughout this case. In a statement issued on March 12, NIPIC officially declared that the suspects had not returned 500 million euros (approximately $564 million) from the exported petrochemical products in 2013. But in Wednesday's session, the legal representative of NIPIC only said that the primary defendant had not paid his debts on time.

Three suspects in the case are currently living outside Iran and are tried in absentia. The absentees are represented by attorneys, but it is not yet clear whether their legal counsels are appointed by them or by the Judicial Department.

Reza Hamzehlou is accused of launching several companies in Turkey along with Ms. Marjan Sheikholeslam and ordering others to register front companies to skip sanctions imposed on the Islamic Republic of Iran.

Marjan Sheikholeslam used to work as a journalist for the government's official news agency (IRNA) and pro-reform daily Hambastegui. She has been living in Canda since 2009 and has categorically denied the charges against her.

She released a statement on March 16 saying that all of the activities of her companies in Iran and Turkey were "legal."

She added that her companies "had nothing to do with money laundering and making a profit out of sanctions."

The trial began precisely one day after Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei appointed the ultraconservative mid-ranking cleric Ebrahim Raisi as the head of the judiciary.

Local news outlets have branded the accusations as one of the most significant embezzlement cases in the history of mankind.

Based on prosecution accusations and statements by other judicial officials, the accused either failed to reimburse government companies in hard currency - converting the proceeds to local currency before returning the money, making a profit - or outright embezzlement.