Former Iran Central Bank chairman denies ever meeting Zarrab

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Article Summary
The former head of Iran’s Central Bank said he never met with jailed Turkish-Iranian tycoon Reza Zarrab.

Iran’s former Central Bank head Mahmoud Bahmani, reacting to Iranian-Turkish tycoon Reza Zarrab’s recent statements in a US court, says he never met with Zarrab.

In his testimony in a New York trial, Zarrab, who was arrested in the United States on March 19, 2016, explained how he helped Iran bypass US sanctions. He said he had meetings with Bahmani and had ties with former Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

During Ahmadinejad’s 2005-2013 presidency, Iran was under heavy sanctions over its nuclear program. Following the 2015 Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, all nuclear-related sanctions against Iran were lifted.

In an interview with the semi-official ISNA news agency Dec. 12, Bahmani said he had had no meetings with Zarrab.

“I emphasize that I neither had a meeting nor any ties with him. I also don’t think that Mr. Ahmadinejad had a meeting with him either,” said Bahmani, adding, “Mr. Zarrab has just claimed that he had meetings with a number of people to bypass the sanctions; he didn’t say these meetings were for private purposes or the financial [issues Iran was facing].”

In response to a question about Zarrab's having said he has an audio file of his meeting with Bahmani, the former top Iranian banker stated, “I had no meeting with Reza Zarrab. Suppose that I had such a meeting, holding a meeting is part of my job. The head of the Central Bank can have a meeting with anyone all over the world, but it is important what decisions are taken.”

Bahmani continued, “Zarrab's only claim is that we arranged a meeting with him to bypass the sanctions. I didn’t bypass the sanctions; I managed them, and I’m proud that I managed the sanctions.”

Bahmani said Ahmadinejad’s government had developed a plan to have major amounts of gold on hand to help keep the country running in the event of a war between Tehran and the West. “We anticipated [a war]; this explains why we stored a few hundred tons of gold in the treasury. However, I don’t want to say how we imported that gold. I label this action 'managing the crisis and sanctions.' It is possible that someone calls that 'bypassing the sanctions,' but I don’t care about this rhetoric."

Asked about his ties with Zarrab, Bahmani responded, “Zarrab has explained that he had been in coordination with Turkish President [Recep Tayyip Erdogan] or, for instance, Iran to bypass the Iran sanctions, and even has claimed that he had a meeting with me. But I’m saying that I had no meeting with Reza Zarrab.”

Bahmani also said that during the global recession of 2007-2012, the United States and Europe invited him to present them with possible solutions to the crisis. He said such solutions were offered “in 2008 and these countries came out of recession through our plan.” 

Al-Monitor Staff

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