Iran executes businessman for economic crimes

Iran executes businessman for economic crimes
The rial currency’s weakness earlier this year disrupted foreign trade and helped boost annual inflation fourfold to nearly 40 percent in November. (Shutterstock)
Updated 22 December 2018

Iran executes businessman for economic crimes

Iran executes businessman for economic crimes
  • Iran executed two traders for economic crimes in November in an effort to stem financial misconduct in the face of an economic crisis and US sanctions
  • The new Islamic revolutionary courts, whose rulings cannot be appealed, were set up in August

TEHRAN, DUBAI: Iran executed a trader known as the “Sultan of Bitumen” on Saturday over charges of fraud and large-scale smuggling of the oil product, the judiciary’s news agency Mizan online reported. 

He was sentenced to death by a fast-track court set up to fight economic crimes, state television reported, following an outcry against profiteering and corruption that has seen dozens of people jailed.

Hamidreza Bagheri Dermani, 49, is the third businessman to be executed since an anti-corruption drive was launched over the summer.

He was convicted of “corruption on earth” — a broad charge used for the most high-profile and serious cases — after swindling over 10 trillion rials (around $100 million at the current rate) through “fraud, forgery and bribery,” Mizan reported.

The new Islamic revolutionary courts — whose rulings cannot be appealed, except in the case of death sentences — were set up in August after Ali Khamenei called for “swift and just” action to confront an “economic war” by foreign enemies after the US reimposed sanctions.

Dermani, who was arrested in August 2014, reportedly forged dozens of documents of fake real estate to acquire bank loans.

He then used front companies to procure more than 300,000 tons of bitumen — an oil-based substance used in asphalt and other products and one of Iran’s most profitable businesses — Mizan said.

Dermani was also accused of ties to business magnate Babak Morteza Zanjani, who is awaiting execution after being convicted in 2016 of embezzling $2.7 billion while helping the government circumvent international sanctions.

The judiciary said Dermani’s loans were facilitated by former central bank governor Mahmoud Reza Khavari, who was convicted in absentia last year after fleeing to Canada in the wake of yet another major embezzlement scandal.

News of Dermani’s execution was presented in dramatic fashion on state television, with an action-movie soundtrack and full documentary about his crimes.

The footage showed documents claiming Iranian journalist and women’s rights activist Hengameh Shahidi, sentenced earlier this month to 12 years in prison on unspecified charges, had tried to pay Dermani’s bail last year.

Iran has seen a sharp economic downturn this year, fueled in part by US President Donald Trump’s decision in May to withdraw from a landmark 2015 nuclear deal and reimpose crippling unilateral sanctions.

The authorities have been keen to show they are cracking down on “economic disruptors” accused of exploiting shortages and fluctuations in gold and currency prices.

Dozens have been tried and in November a trader dubbed the “Sultan of Coins” and his accomplice were executed for exploiting a surge in gold demand.


Egypt welcomes Qatar invite

Egypt welcomes Qatar invite
Egypt's Minister of Foreign Affairs Sameh Shoukry. (AFP)
Updated 4 min 30 sec ago

Egypt welcomes Qatar invite

Egypt welcomes Qatar invite
  • Egypt is always striving for the best relationship with the Arab brothers,” Shoukry added

CAIRO: Egypt’s Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry said Qatar’s invitation to President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi to visit Doha is appreciated, and a diplomatic approach will be taken to set the appropriate timing for it.
“We have strong institutions that monitor and take the necessary measures to protect Egyptian interests,” Shoukry told the local Sada Al-Balad satellite channel.
He stressed that all topics related to Egypt’s security and stability, including the issue of the Muslim Brotherhood, are being addressed, and that Qatar’s response to Cairo’s demands will be evaluated.
“We are proceeding positively in removing the effects of the boycott between Egypt and Qatar, and we are also dealing with all the issues that concern us. Egypt is always striving for the best relationship with the Arab brothers,” Shoukry added.


Drought-hit Jordan to build Red Sea desalination plant

Drought-hit Jordan to build Red Sea desalination plant
Updated 13 June 2021

Drought-hit Jordan to build Red Sea desalination plant

Drought-hit Jordan to build Red Sea desalination plant
  • The cost of the project is estimated at ‘around $1 billion’
  • Thirteen international consortiums have put in bids, and the government will chose five of them by July

AMMAN: Jordan said Sunday it plans to build a Red Sea desalination plant operating within five years, to provide the mostly-desert and drought-hit kingdom with critical drinking water.
The cost of the project is estimated at “around $1 billion,” ministry of water and irrigation spokesman Omar Salameh said, adding that the plant would be built in the Gulf of Aqaba, in southern Jordan.
The plant is expected to produce 250-300 million cubic meters of potable water per year, and should be ready for operation in 2025 or 2026, Salameh said.
“It will cover the need for drinking water (in Jordan) for the next two centuries,” he said, adding that the desalinated water would be piped from Aqaba on the Red Sea to the rest of the country.
Jordan is one of the world’s most water-deficient countries and experts say the country, home to 10 million people, is now in the grip of one of the most severe droughts in its history.
Thirteen international consortiums have put in bids, and the government will chose five of them by July, Salameh said.
Desalinating water is a major drain of energy, and the companies must suggest how to run the plant in Jordan, which does not have major oil reserves.
Last month Salameh said that Jordan needs about 1.3 billion cubic meters of water per year.
But the quantities available are around 850 to 900 million cubic meters, with the shortfall “due to low rainfall, global warming, population growth and successive refugee inflows,” he said.
This year, the reserves of key drinking water dams have reached critical levels, many now a third of their normal capacity.


Jordan’s former royal court chief charged in Prince Hamzah sedition case

Jordan’s former royal court chief charged in Prince Hamzah sedition case
Updated 13 June 2021

Jordan’s former royal court chief charged in Prince Hamzah sedition case

Jordan’s former royal court chief charged in Prince Hamzah sedition case
  • In the indictment, Awadallah and bin Zaid are charged with “attempting to undermine the regime”
  • On June 2, they were referred to the SSC, which looks into cases related to terrorism and state security

AMMAN: Jordan’s former royal court chief and another man will go on trial this week at the State Security Court (SSC) for their alleged roles in a plot to “destabilize the country.”

The country’s public prosecutor endorsed the charges against Sharif Hassan bin Zaid and Bassem Awadallah, the former royal court chief.

Both are accused of working with Prince Hamzah, the former crown prince.

In the indictment, a copy of which was seen by Arab News, Awadallah and bin Zaid are charged with “attempting to undermine the regime, and the country’s security and stability,” as well as “inciting sedition.”

On June 2, they were referred to the SSC, which looks into cases related to terrorism and state security. The court is expected to begin the trial next week.

Awadallah and bin Zaid were arrested on April 3 along with 15 other people suspected of involvement in the case, which also involved Prince Hamzah. Jordanian authorities said that Awadallah, bin Zaid and Prince Hamzah were attempting to destabilize Jordan in collaboration with “foreign entities.”

Prince Hamzah’s involvement was resolved within the framework of the Hashemite family upon directives from his half brother King Abdullah II. The Jordanian royal court published a letter signed by Prince Hamzah in which he vowed allegiance to King Abdullah and confirmed that he would act “always for His Majesty and his Crown Prince to help and support.”

The charge sheet into the sedition case said that there is enough evidence proving a “solid connection” between Prince Hamzah and the two suspects, Awadallah and bin Zaid.

It also said that bin Zaid recommended Awadallah to Prince Hamzah to help them gather external support in their plot to topple the regime and place Prince Hamzah on the throne.

The charges said that the three men regularly met at the home of Awadallah, who was reportedly “encouraging the prince to intensify his meetings with notables and tribal leaders.”

Prince Hamzah then moved to the so-called “open criticism stage,” and began attacking national institutions and accusing them of ineptitude, the indictment said.

The charges also claim that Prince Hamzah exploited a hospital tragedy to mobilize Jordanians and ignite public anger against the state.

Seven COVID-19 patients died in March in the New Salt Public Hospital, northwest of the capital Amman, when the hospital’s oxygen supply failed.

The incident triggered public anger, forcing Jordan’s health minister at the time, Nazir Obeidat, to step down.

The indictment contains a number of text messages that Awadallah, bin Zaid and Prince Hamzah sent to each other during March, days before the case became public.

On March 13, Awadallah sent a WhatsApp message to bin Zaid that said: “It is time for H.” On the same date, Prince Hamzah wrote to bin Zaid: “There is another person saying ‘go ahead.’” The latter wrote back: “This (medical tragedy) is considered the spark.”

Before nationwide rallies planned for March, 24, prosecutors said that bin Zaid sent a text message to Prince Hamzah warning: “From now on, there should not be only words, but there should be a leadership.”

Activists affiliated with the United Jordanian Movement, Hirak called for the nationwide rally to commemorate the 10th anniversary of massive opposition protests in 2011 organized by the Youth of March 24 movement.

Bin Zaid sent another message to Prince Hamzah urging him to “seize the opportunity, maybe not today or tomorrow, but I’m sure not in June, for example. God be on your side.”

In another text message to Prince Hamzah, bin Zaid said: “Things are coming my friend and, as the man (Awadallah) said again last day, the thing will occur sooner than you think.”


Two thirds of eligible people in Dubai fully vaccinated against COVID-19

Two thirds of eligible people in Dubai fully vaccinated against COVID-19
Updated 13 June 2021

Two thirds of eligible people in Dubai fully vaccinated against COVID-19

Two thirds of eligible people in Dubai fully vaccinated against COVID-19
  • For six months the UAE has been running one of the world’s fastest vaccination campaigns against COVID-19

DUBAI: About two-thirds of people eligible for inoculation against COVID-19 have now received two doses of the vaccine in Dubai, the tourist and business hub of the United Arab Emirates, Dubai Health Authority (DHA) said.
Dubai is the most populous of the seven emirates that make up the UAE and has one of the world’s busiest airports.
For six months the UAE has been running one of the world’s fastest vaccination campaigns against COVID-19, initially using a vaccine developed by the China National Pharmaceutical Group (Sinopharm) and then adding the Pfizer/BioNTech and AstraZeneca shots and Russia’s Sputnik V.
DHA deputy director general Alawi Alsheikh Ali told Dubai Television late on Saturday that 83 percent of people aged over 16 — or about 2.3 million people — had now received at least one dose of a vaccine and that 64 percent had received two doses in the emirate.
The UAE recently said nearly 85 percent of its total eligible population had received at least one dose of a vaccine, without saying how many people had had both doses.
The UAE, which does not break down the number of cases by emirate, has seen a rise in the number of infections in the past month. It recorded 2,281 new cases on Saturday, bringing the total so far to around 596,000 cases. Daily cases peaked at almost 4,000 a day in early February.
DHA said 90 percent of the COVID-19 patients admitted to intensive care units in Dubai hospitals were unvaccinated, without specifying when that statistic was recorded.


Algerian parliamentary election results expected within days, authority says

Algerian parliamentary election results expected within days, authority says
Updated 13 June 2021

Algerian parliamentary election results expected within days, authority says

Algerian parliamentary election results expected within days, authority says

ALGIERS: The results of an Algerian parliamentary election in which fewer than a third of voters took part will be announced within a few days, the head of the voting authority said late on Saturday.
The ruling establishment has tried to use elections along with a crackdown on dissent as a way to end two years of political unrest, with Algeria facing a looming economic crisis.
Supporters of the “Hirak” mass protest movement said it showed the system lacked legitimacy. Two prominent journalists, Khaled Drareni and Ihsane El Kadi, and the opposition figure Karim Tabbou, were detained last week but released on Saturday.
Politicians said the turnout of 30.2 percent, the lowest ever officially recorded for a parliamentary election in Algeria, was “acceptable.”
“The election took place in good conditions. Voters were able to vote and choose the most suitable candidates to serve Algeria,” said election authority head Mohamed Chorfi on television.
The protests erupted in 2019 and unseated veteran President Abdelaziz Bouteflika, continuing weekly until the global pandemic struck a year later. After a year-long pause they resumed in February but police mostly quashed them last month.
Many Algerians believe real power rests with the military and security establishments who have dominated politics for decades, rather than with elected politicians.
“We have grown accustomed in the past to high turnout due to fraud,” said Arslan Chikhaoui, an Algerian analyst, saying the authorities had manipulated the results of elections before the Hirak protests to suggest greater enthusiasm.
After Bouteflika was forced to step down, President Abdelmadjid Tebboune was elected with a turnout of 40 percent. Last year he held a referendum on an amended constitution that gained only 25 percent of votes.
The old parties that traditionally dominated have been tarred with corruption and abuse scandals, giving space to independents and moderate Islamist parties that hope to gain a majority of seats in the new parliament.
Those that win a lot of seats are likely to be included in the next government.
During parliament’s coming five-year term, Algeria is likely to face a fiscal and economic crunch, after burning through four fifths of foreign currency reserves since 2013.
The government has maintained expensive social programs and the state’s central role in the economy despite plummeting oil and gas sales.
Reforms to strengthen the private sector contributed to corruption that fueled the Hirak. Spending cuts could trigger a new wave of protests against the ruling establishment.
Laws passed by the outgoing parliament to encourage foreign and private investment and strengthen the energy sector have so far had little effect.