Iran Pulse

Iran’s oil minister accuses former officials of $2.7 billion oil fraud

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Article Summary
Iran's Oil Minister Bijan Zanganeh has claimed that former ministers under Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's administration cooperated with billionaire Babak Zanjani to steal $2.7 billion in government money.

Oil Minister Bijan Zanganeh accused officials from Iran’s previous administration of giving $2.7 billion worth of oil and loans to former businessman and billionaire Babak Zanjani with an understanding that revenue from the sale would never be returned to the Oil Ministry.

“Some took [the oil] and did not give the money back, and it was never even agreed for them to give the money back,” Zanganeh said in a television interview. “They didn’t make a mistake. It was intentional. The team of Babak Zanjani that took [the oil] did not want to give back the money.”

Zanjani was one of the individuals tasked with selling Iran’s oil under Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s presidency. Zanjani’s connections to banks and businesses overseas helped Iran evade sanctions on its oil and financial sectors.

Zanganeh also claimed that Zanjani was given Oil Ministry loans to pay contractors but kept the money himself. He said that Zanjani also created a bank to which more than $2 billion of the government’s money was given with the approval and signatures of the head of the Central Bank and several of Ahmadinejad’s ministers.

“It’s not even clear what this bank is,” Zanganeh continued, adding that it was in originally in Tajikistan, but later, Zanjani created another bank in Malaysia. He said that the bank had no credibility and asked, “On what basis did they take such a risk?”

Zanganeh said, “He has some property in Iran which will be handed over to the government. It needs to be valued, but the amount is much smaller than the amount he owes.”

When asked if the money in the Malaysian bank can be transferred to Iran, Zanganeh replied, “There is nothing in the Malaysian bank. No money was deposited in the bank. It was another bank … and they took the money. This individual is a phenomenon, the way the prosecutors explain it.”

Revealing his frustration at former officials that he claimed want credit for their service under the previous administration, Zanganeh said they have “big mouths” and that he’s been silent up to this point out of “decency.” He also added that Zanjani “wasn’t alone,” asking, “Is it even possible to do such a thing by yourself? This much of the public money, to take it and go? Is it possible?”

In September 2013, Zanaganeh accused Zanjani of still owing the ministry nearly $2 billion. Zanjani said that he was unable to pay off his debt because his money was tied up overseas due to international sanctions. He was arrested in December 2013 and officials from the judiciary have since said that they were in the process of evaluating his net worth.

Zanganeh’s latest accusation takes the case one step further than his September accusation, by including Ahmadinejad’s ministers and saying that their agreement was such that Zanjani was never expected to pay back the ministry. A short clip from the live television interview has been shared widely online by Iranian users on Facebook.

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Found in: oil ministry, mahmoud ahmadinejad, iranian economy, iranian economic sanctions, iranian central bank, economic sanctions

Arash Karami is a contributor to Al-Monitor. On Twitter: @thekarami

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