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Iranian press review: Landmark corruption case shows extent of embezzlement

Iran's crackdown on graft reveals huge scale of oil revenue theft, while bad booze causes deaths in Kurdistan province
Iran has been recouping millions through its anti-corruption drive (AFP)

Iran's embezzlement scandals hit the roof

A corruption case over the alleged embezzlement of $7.4bn has set a new record for graft, according to Hamshahri daily. The case, which has been under investigation since 2014, saw three hearing sessions last week in Tehran, with a final sentence yet to be reached.

A group of 14 suspects are accused of transferring the income of trading petrochemical products to their own bank accounts outside Iran, instead of returning the money to government coffers, the paper reported.

The 14 accused have registered trading companies in Dubai, Turkey and Germany, and set up petrochemical firms inside Iran to circumvent international sanctions on the country that were lifted in 2015.

The managers of the companies had close ties with the camp of former president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and other powerful conservatives, according to the newspaper. 

The political background of Marjan Sheikholeslami (also known as Marjan Aleagha), one of those accused in the case and who fled to Canada in 2017, has added to the controversy over the case.

Sheikholeslami was once a pro-reformist journalist who switched sides in 2008 and, with the support of conservatives, ran an unsuccessful campaign for a seat in parliament.

According to Hamshahri, Sheikholeslami switched sides again after landing in Canada, joining the camp of the Iranian opposition living abroad in calling for the imposition of more sanctions on Iran and the subversion of the Islamic Republic.

Ahmadinejad claims he made no missteps

Iran's former President Ahmadinejad, who is known for his hostile rhetoric towards the West, cracking down on domestic opposition, and controversial speeches, said in a recent interview with the Shargh daily that he "made no wrong decisions" as the president of Iran.

The interview, which was published on 10 March, focused only on the economy, at the behest of the ex-president. In the interview, Ahmadinejad defended all the decisions he made during his term (2005-2013) and accused "extra-official powerholders" of being the main source of corruption in the country's economic system. 

He also stated that the sharp rise in world oil prices in 2008 was a result of his administration's "active foreign policy" and "deep understanding of the international atmosphere".

"If today, they let me lead the government, the price of oil will return to over $100 [a barrel] within six months," he added.

Since 2014, several high-ranking members of his government have been tried and imprisoned in cases of corruption and fraud. Ahmadinejad has also shifted camps, from being a supporter of Iran's judicial system and governing structure to a critic of powerholders in the country.

Iranians react to hardline new judiciary head

The new appointment of the hardline cleric, Ebrahim Raisi, as the head of the judiciary, and his election as a deputy chief of the country's Assembly of Experts, has caused a mixed reaction among Iranians.

The news agency IRNA published on 10 March a letter by Deputy Speaker of Parliament Ali Motahari to Raisi, urging him to provide a mechanism that preserves "personal freedom" for individuals appearing in court.

The Ebtekar daily, in an article titled "Judicial System Demands Transparency, Youthfulness and Proficiency", carried several Iranian MPs' expectations for Raisi to have an open "viewpoint about political freedom".

Meanwhile, activists recalled the role Raisi played in the 1988 mass execution of leftist political prisoners in Iran. At that time, Raisi was a Sharia judge in the four-member committee that ordered the death penalty for prisoners who did not change their political ideologies during their prison terms.

"In a country where a lawyer is sentenced to 38 years, and a murderer is appointed head of judiciary, can you hope for the delivery of justice?" an Iranian wrote on Twitter, in reference to the imprisonment of Nasrin Sotoudeh, an Iranian human rights lawyer.

Bad booze kills in Kurdish region

Three people have died in the Iranian-Kurdish city of Bukan from drinking toxic bootleg liquor, according to Khabar Online. Kurdistan province is the main point of entry for smuggled alcohol into Iran. 

In a new wave of poisoning by bootleg liquor, 35 people have been hospitalised in the western cities of Bukan, Piranshahr and Baneh, according to Khabar Online.

ISNA news agency also reported that six individuals have been placed on dialysis in Baneh, and another, who is in a critical health condition, has been transferred to a hospital in the centre of the province. 

Since the Islamic Revolution in 1979, the production and consumption of alcohol has been banned in the country. However, moonshine and smuggled alcohol continue to be widely traded on the black market. 

During the past 40 years, drinking bootleg liquor has led to frequent incidents of death and blindness in Iran. According to Donya-e Eqtesad daily, 343 individuals died between 2016 and 2018 due to alcohol poisoning.