Economy, Business And Markets

Officials Stress Need to Fight Corruption

The  Iranian government is determined to combat corruption. The  Iranian government is determined to combat corruption.

The Iranian judiciary may spare the life of oil tycoon Babak Zanjani. This was a story that sparsely grabbed the headlines in the local media this week.

On Sunday and during his weekly news conference, Judiciary Spokesman Gholamhossein Mohseni Ejei said if the Iranian billionaire pays back the huge amount he owes to the government for oil sales during the sanctions years, the judiciary system might spare his life.

Earlier this month, Iran’s Supreme Court upheld the death penalty against Zanjani, accused by prosecutors of owing the government more than $2.7 billion for oil sold on behalf of the Oil Ministry by circumventing the nuclear sanctions.

“The sentence has been upheld, but the law stipulates that if he returns the money, something can be done,” IRNA quoted Ejei as saying.

Ejei said Zanjani would be allowed to contact unidentified people overseas who could pay back his debts.

By his own account, Zanjani had for years helped circumvent sanctions by arranging billions of dollars of oil deals through a network of companies stretching from Turkey to Malaysia and the UAE.

At the time of his arrest in December 2013, a judicial spokesman said: “He received funds from certain bodies ... and received oil and other shipments and now has not returned the funds. Three years past the arrest of Zanjani, the country is yet to witness any encouraging results in the fight against economic corruption.”

The statement was made by Kazem Palizdar, the secretary of the Office for Combating Economic Corruption, in a forum held by Tehran Chamber of Commerce, Industries, Mines and Agriculture to mark Anti-Corruption Day on Monday.

“The government of President Hassan Rouhani ran into the high-profile judicial case of Babak Zanjani in its early days,” he said.

Palizdar noted that the country has been beset with large corruption cases due to sanctions and lack of experience and coordination in the economy.

The official said economic corruption in Iran has made it harder to attract foreign investment.

Calling on the private sector and people to help advance the “fight against corruption”, Palizdar said the government cannot do it all by itself.  

“I strongly believe that corruption is acting like a swarm of termites gnawing at the pillars of the country and undermining people’s trust, which is the most valuable asset of a republic,” said First Vice President Es’haq Jahangiri in a meeting of officials from the security cells of state organizations last month.

Iran emerged from years of sanctions in mid-January when a deal clinched six months earlier with major powers came into force.

In return for the sanctions relief, Tehran implemented temporary curbs on its nuclear program.

Experts believe that besides the lingering non-nuclear US sanctions, widespread domestic corruption and lack of transparency also contribute to the reluctance of foreign firms and banks to cooperate with Iranians.

Jahangiri also pointed to the high rate of contraband smuggling and said the uncontrolled inflow of smuggled goods has hurt the national economy.

According to official figures, $14 billion worth of contraband annually enter the country and $1 billion are smuggled overseas.

“Smuggling on such a large scale is rare across the world,” he said.

Jahangiri stressed that upholding the rule of law is high on the government’s agenda to prevent corruption from spreading.

“From the viewpoint of the government and president [Hassan Rouhani], law abidance, rule of law and campaign against corruption are a priority.”

Echoing similar remarks, in an address to a gathering of intellectuals and academics in Mashhad, Khorasan Razavi Province, President Rouhani said “the government is rock solid in the battle against corruption”.

Rouhani reiterated that the government leaves no stone unturned in its fight against corruption and feels no fear of any power or person in its effort to boost national development.

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