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Well-Connected Suspects In Large Corruption Cases In Iran Are Often Off The Hook

The first court hearing against defendants in the corruption case in Iran's petrochemicals trades which was held on Wednesday, March 06, 2019.

One of the suspects in a major financial corruption case in Iran has gone "missing," the Young Journalists Club, an Iranian state TV affiliate, revealed on Tuesday July 21.

The missing man, Ali Ashraf Riahi, is the son-in-law of former industry minister Mohammad Reza Nematzadeh. Riahi is believed to be on the run somewhere in Iran while his wife and daughter have reportedly fled the country, the report said. It did not mention where exactly they have found refuge.

The corruption case, better known as the case of mishandling foreign currency at the Petrochemicals Trading Company, has been under investigation a court in Tehran since early 2019 and its 10th hearing session started on Monday 14 months after the previous session.

On March 13, 2018, the National Iranian Petrochemical Industries Company (NIPIC) announced in an official statement that PCC “has failed to return 500 million euros of debt to NIPIC since 2013.”

The statement also asserted that managers of PCC paid the government for oil exports in local currency instead of euros, pocketing illegal profits in the process. The suspects allegedly kept the foreign currency gained from exports in their own accounts and pocketed the interest.

There are at least 15 suspects in the case, but five of them including Mr. Riahi, are of special interest to the media in Iran as they live outside Iran and the judges charge that they have "fled" the country.

Ali Ashraf Riahi in a courtroom in 2019.
Ali Ashraf Riahi in a courtroom in 2019.

Nonetheless, they are not the only regime insiders who have managed to exit the country despite being implicated in a major criminal case. Even some of those who are supposed to be serving jail sentences have been outside the prison and sometimes causing controversies.

A good example is former Vice-President Hamid Reza Baqai. According to Iranian media, earlier this week he showed up at the office of Sharq newspaper in Tehran and videos on social media show him attacking journalists and causing damage to the office as he believed a story about him in the paper was libellous. Baqai, an aide of former President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, was jailed for financial corruption last year, but hardly spent any time in jail.

In another example, President Rouhani's brother reportedly came out of prison hours after being jailed for convictions relating to financial corruption including bribery. He has not been seen after that.

However, people arrested or convicted of political offenses rarely are allowed to go free on bail. Some spend months in prison before even a trial is held. In some cases health emergencies of political prisoners are ignored and they endure solitary confinement.

IRAN--Shabnam Nematzadeh, daughter of former Minister of Industry
IRAN--Shabnam Nematzadeh, daughter of former Minister of Industry

Mr. Riahi's wife Zeynab who has fled the country, has been convicted by a court in another case of disrupting the country's economy and hoarding medicines. Her sister Shabnam Nematzadeh, nicknamed by Iranian media as "the queen of medicine" was sentenced to 20 years in prison in January.

The judge at the court on Monday, July 20 said that Riahi was also traveling abroad. However, he went missing after returning to Iran. The judge accused him of disrupting the economy and acquiring wealth through illegitimate ways.

In a court session last year, Riahi rejected the accusations, nevertheless, he did not show up at the court session on Monday. He had also said at the hearing last year that he has not taken advantage of his family ties with the former Industry Minister.

He said that he was employed as a technical adviser by the company 6 years before marrying the minister's daughter.

Two of the daughters of the ex-minister, who is currently an adviser to Iran's oil minister and a key player in Iran's petrochemicals industry, were convicted in the case relating to a pharmaceutical company.

Based on a 2016 report by Expediency Council member Ahmad Tavakoli, Mr Nematzadeh's wife and two of his daughters have been active as managing director and board members in 10 different petrochemical companies.

Nematzadeh's daughters and their husbands are not the only individuals linked to regime insiders who have been implicated or convicted for involvement in financial corruption. The son of a former army commander and the son-in-law of labor minister Mohammad Shariatmadari have also been convicted for financial corruption in two recent major cases.