Government fears hanging would protect elite behind Babak Zanjani’s sanctions busting
Financial Times, Dec. 3, 2016 - Iran’s supreme court has upheld the death sentence of a billionaire businessman who was involved in a high-profile fraud case, but overturned the sentences of two others who were convicted alongside him.
Babak Zanjani, an Iranian oil billionaire, who had accumulated astronomical sums thanks to his connections to Iran’s powerful elite, was sentenced to death for economic crimes in March, after failing to repay the government €2.7bn ($3bn) accumulated by selling crude oil on behalf of the authorities.
Domestic media reported on Saturday that the Supreme Court had confirmed his death sentence, but overturned those of Mehdi Shams and Hamid Fallah Heravi. Their cases were handed over to a new court for further assessment.
The government had repeatedly called for Zanjani not to be hanged because his death would bury many of his secrets, protecting the identity of the powerful elite who helped him accumulate wealth through circumventing sanctions.
One post on Telegram, a popular messaging app in Iran read: “Around €3bn of the country’s money will be hanged and buried with Babak Zanjani.”
It is not clear whether Saturday’s ruling can be appealed. If final, it is not clear when Zanjani, who was arrested in December 2013, will be hanged.
In a similar case in 2014, Mah-Afarid Khosravi, who was allegedly linked to a $2.8bn fraud, was hanged in secret while his family was appealing against his sentence.
The Berlin-based corruption watchdog, Transparency International, has described Iran as one of the world’s most corrupt countries. Iran’s ranking in the corruption perception index was 130 in 2015.
Vice-president Es’haq Jahanqiri said last month that systematic corruption had infiltrated all layers of the economy “like termites” but vowed to tackle it no matter who was responsible, a reference to accusations against hardliners.