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Suspect In Alleged Money Laundering, Sanction-Busting Case Rejects All Charges

Marjan Sheikholeslami TV Interview Screengrab
Marjan Sheikholeslami TV Interview Screengrab

One of the accused in the controversial Petrochemical Commercial Company (PCC) in Iran has insisted on her innocence and rejected all the charges, including money laundering and mishandling of funds brought against her at a Tehran court.

Marjan Sheikholeslami, suspect number 6 in the case, who left Iran in 2009 and is based in Canada, released a statement on Saturday 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 profit out of sanctions."

The statement is in Farsi and published on Radio Farda's Persian website.

The case launched in Iran involves more than a dozen people and revolves around Iranian efforts to export petrochemicals in face of international sanctions put in place in 2011 to force Tehran to stop its clandestine nuclear program.

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.

The amounts involved are also not very clear, with various officials saying different things. What seems to be the case is that around 6 billion euros changed hands, apparently with no questions over 3.2 billion, which the government says was returned in 2011. But the charges say the accused made “illegal” profits from some of the rest of the money in the following years.

Sheikholeslami in her denial also says that "There are no outstanding debts as Judiciary authorities have claimed," stressing that she has "completely settled all of her accounts."

Elsewhere in the statement, she stated that she has not profited from delaying reimbursements or as a result of converting currencies."

She also denied "selling petrochemical products and receiving an illegal percentage of profit," and added: "I need to make it clear that I have in no way sold or bought those products, so naturally, I haven't received a percentage of the profit."

The statement effectively sums up and denies all the charges made against the suspects.

Sheikholeslami released the statement of denial one week after Tehran’s prosecutor said that a "heavy" part of the case which is about "runaway" suspects including Marjan Sheikholeslami, is still open.

Meanwhile last Wednesday Iran's Prosecutor-General Mohammad Jafar Montazeri announced that "a legal writ has been issued and Interpol has been informed" of Iran's request "to extradite Ms. Shikholeslami" from Canada.

This is not likely to happen even if Montazeri is correct saying that a request for extradition has been submitted. With Iran's highly questionable legal practices, no reputable judicial system would extradite a person Iran deems a suspect.

Also, it is very hard to dissect such cases pending in Iranian courts, which operate in opaque ways, often without any real transparency or standard practices of sharing information with the public. In addition, justice is often pursued in Iran according to political considerations. Some are accused of crimes they either did not commit or had some culpability for, but are selected to take a bigger share of the blame, while real actors remain behind the scenes.

Based on the indictment pertaining to the PCC case, Reza Hamzehlou, the prime suspect opened several companies in Turkey around 2010-2011 as a trade partner of Sheikholeslami.

A prosecutor's representative accused Hamzehlou in the first court hearing of having ordered other individuals to establish companies abroad in order to circumvent sanctions.

The court has named Marjan Sheikholeslami, the former managing director of Iran's private Cultural Heritage News Agency, as suspect number 6 and the main business partner of Reza Hamzehlou, the prime suspect.

According to the Judge in charge of the case, Sheikholeslami "and two other foreign-based suspects are represented at the court by lawyers."

However, she said in the statement that her lawyer has been appointed by the court and she was never officially notified of her indictment.

The hearing of PCC case is still ongoing and no date has been announced for the court's next session.

The PCC case, which is mainly about circumventing U.S. sanctions against Iran is only one of several financial corruption cases in Iranian courts. Since 2011, several individuals and companies have been accused of illegally profiting from the sometimes far-fetched financial operations to circumvent sanctions. One suspect in one of the cases, Babak Zanjani, has been sentenced to death with similar charges, but his case has remained inconclusive as the government still hopes to repatriate the funds he has allegedly kept abroad.