Monday 18 December 2017

Iranian billionaire sentenced to death over corruption in oil deals

Tycoon Babak Zanjani in court in Tehran Photo: AFP/Getty Images
Tycoon Babak Zanjani in court in Tehran Photo: AFP/Getty Images

David Blair

One of Iran's richest men has been sentenced to death for corruption after being accused of making billions by sanctions-busting for a previous regime.

Babak Zanjani, who once estimated his personal fortune at €12bn, was arrested in Tehran in December 2013 - four months after his ally, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, left office as president.

Zanjani (44) has now been convicted of "fraud" and "economic crimes" and sentenced to be hanged, said a spokesman for the judiciary. He has also been ordered to repay "one fourth of the money that was laundered".

Zanjani was first arrested one day after Hassan Rouhani, the Iranian president, promised to target "privileged figures" who had "taken advantage of economic sanctions". His downfall is another sign that Mr Rouhani is trying to dismantle Mr Ahmadinejad's legacy and purge associates of the former president.

Zanjani was almost unknown until December 2012, when his name appeared on a European Union sanctions list. He was accused of being a "key facilitator for Iranian oil deals and transferring oil-related money".

Zanjani was then owner and chief executive of Sorinet Group, a Dubai-based conglomerate. The EU said that "some of its companies are used by Zanjani to channel oil-related payments".

During this time, Iran was subjected to an EU oil embargo and crippling financial sanctions. The countries that still bought oil from Iran often had no legal way of paying for shipments.

Western governments believed that Zanjani was arranging to sell Iranian oil and then channelling the payments back to Tehran via the web of companies in Sorinet Group, in breach of financial sanctions.

This would not have been an offence in Iran, but the authorities suspected that Zanjani was making handsome profits by keeping a large slice of the money. When he stood trial last year, he was accused of retaining $2.7bn (€2.5bn) of revenues that should have been paid to the oil ministry.

For as long as Mr Ahmadinejad was in office, Zanjani appeared to be safe. Since the presidency transferred, however, Mr Rouhani and his ministers have denounced the corruption that flourished during the era when Mr Ahmadinejad was in office.

Last October, Iran's new oil minister, Bijan Zanganeh, delivered a blistering speech condeming the "corrupt parasites" acting as middlemen in oil deals.

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