Iranian Billionaire Babak Zanjani Sentenced To Death For Pocketing $2.8 Billion In Oil Revenue

Iran billionaire tycoon Babak Zanjani 41, has been sentenced to death for corruption after a lengthy trial, where he was accused of fraudulently siphoning over $2.8 billion, a judicial official said Sunday.

Zanjani, one of Iran’s richest men, was arrested in December, 2013, after accusations that he held on to billions of dollars in oil revenue through a web of companies emerged. The judicial spokesman said: “He received funds from certain bodies… and received oil and other shipments and has not returned the funds.”

According to the Independent UK, Zanjani gained notoriety during the tenure of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, where he found dodgy ways to move hard currency from oil sales to Tehran, despite the financial embargo imposed on banks because of Iran’s nuclear program.

The trial was held in public, and convicted the 41-year-old businessman of economic crimes and fraud. Two others were also found guilty of “corruption on earth,” the most severe offence under the Islamic Republic criminal code, meaning that they, too, will face the death penalty.

The judiciary spokesman, Gholam Hossein Mohseni-Ejei, revealed at a press conference that Zanjani would be forced to pay the billions he diverted back to state coffers.

“The preliminary court has sentenced these three defendants to be executed, as well as paying restitution to the plaintiff, they must also pay a fine equal to one fourth of the money that was laundered,” he said, without stipulating the sum.

Zanjani acknowledged that he had been selling millions of barrels in Iranian oil stemming from Malaysia to the United Arab Emirates to Turkey since 2010, amassing a fortune of over $13.5 billion in the process. However, by his account to an Iranian magazine, he claimed he had acquired debts as well. He was arrested just 24 hours after President Hassan Rouhani urged his government to crack down on “financial corruption and privileged figures,” who had taken advantage of the economic sanctions imposed on the previous government.

Zanjani, who can appeal the verdict, has insisted on not doing anything wrong, saying the reason why the money was not paid to the oil ministry was because of the sanctions imposed that hindered the transfers from going ahead. He also stated in numerous media interviews that he was only doing his job. He was charged by the government at that time to bypass sanctions, sell oil and get money back into Iran.

In October, 2015, Bijan Zanganeh, Iran’s minister of petroleum, talked about a new change where middlemen like Zanjani who had enriched themselves with public money would have nowhere to hide. He spoke at the recent nuclear deal that Iran fine-tuned with world powers opening the way to more foreign activity in Iran’s oil sector. Zanganeh has encouraged investors to deal with the ministry and avoid doing business with third parties.

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“We despise the corrupt parasites that want to suck the nation’s blood, I recommend foreign companies to stay away from these corrupt individuals, who know nothing but deceitfulness, they will tell you that until you give us our commission you can’t get your work done. Don’t believe them,” Zanganeh said to a loud applause at an oil and energy event in Tehran when Zanjani’s trial was underway.

Zohreh Rezalee, a lawyer for the defendant, said the verdict was “politically motivated and an appeal would be lodged, we believe that Babak Zanjani in this case is just a debtor.”

For years, things went well for Zanjani, but he was never shy about showing off his private jets and luxury cars. When the local media started to report about his flamboyant lifestyle, he came under scrutiny and suspicion. He is not the first Iranian to be scheduled for execution.

In May, 2014, businessman Mahafarid Amir-Khosravi was executed by hanging after being convicted of embezzling $2.6 billion.

[Photo via Shutterstock]