An Iranian billionaire tycoon has been sentenced to death after being convicted of corruption, Sky News reports. Babak Zanjani, 41, was accused of fraudulently pocketing $2.8bn (£2bn) after a months-long trial which in a rare move was held in public. Prosecutors claim he owed the money to Iran’s government from oil sold on behalf of the oil ministry.
Zanjani, who denied any wrongdoing, insisted the only reason the money had not been paid was that sanctions had prevented a transfer. By his own admission, Zanjani arranged billions of dollars of oil deals for years through a network of companies in countries such as Turkey, Malaysia and the United Arab Emirates.
The defendant, whose fortune is estimated at $10bn-$14bn (£7bn-£9.8bn), was convicted of fraud and economic crimes, while two associates were also found guilty of “corruption on earth”. That is the most serious offence under the country’s criminal code, meaning they too will face the death penalty – but all three can appeal against the verdicts.
During the rule of former president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, Zanjani found ways to channel hard currency to Tehran. This was despite financial sanctions imposed on the Islamic republic’s banks as punishment for its nuclear programme. Zanjani, who was arrested in 2013, said he was tasked with circumventing sanctions to get money back to Iran in return for commissions paid by Mr Ahmadinejad’s government.
The administration of President Hassan Rouhani has alleged that corruption and the payment of illegal commissions thrived under Mr Ahmadinejad’s rule. In January, a nuclear deal was agreed between Iran and Western powers which paved the way for more foreign trade in the country’s oil sector.
Mr Rouhani’s oil minister Bijan Zanganeh urged investors to deal directly with his ministry and avoid third parties.