Iran billionaire sentenced to death for corruption after sanctions-busting for previous regime
Babak Zanjani was accused of pocketing billions of dollars of oil revenues during Mahmoud
By 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 claimed to possess a personal fortune of £9.5 billion, 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. The businessman 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 period, Iran was subjected to an EU oil embargo and crippling financial sanctions. The countries which 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 $2.7 billion (£1.7 billion) 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 and the government unwilling to probe his affairs. Once the presidency transferred to Mr Rouhani, however, the situation changed.
Zanjani has always protested his innocence, portraying himself as nothing more than a successful businessman. During a rare BBC interview in 2013, Zanjani said that he was "proud of working as a businessman for the Islamic Republic of Iran", adding: "I don't do anything political, I just do business."
In January, Iran was relieved of the toughest international sanctions, including the EU oil embargo, after the country scaled back its nuclear programme in accordance with last year's agreement.
Mr Rouhani and his ministers have spoken publicly about the corruption that flourished during the era when Mr Ahmadinejad was in office - and sanctions were at their tightest.
Last October, Bijan Zanganeh, the new Iranian oil minister, delivered a blistering public attack on middlemen in oil deals. In a speech that coincided with Zanjani's trial, the minister said: "We despise the corrupt parasites that want to suck the nation's blood even in this situation."
Mr Zanganeh added: "I recommend to foreign companies to stay away from these corrupt individuals. They will tell you that until you give us our commission you can't get your work done. Don't believe them."