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.