Iranian Judiciary says assets of jailed billionaire recovered from abroad

Iranian Judiciary says assets of jailed billionaire recovered from abroad
Iranian billionaire Babak Zanjani seen with Tajik President Emomali Rahmon before his arrest in Iran. / CC: Sorinet
By bne correspondent in Tehran February 19, 2024

Billions of dollars in assets belonging to Iranian billionaire Babak Zanjani jailed for corruption, have been transferred to Iran from an unnamed third country, judiciary-linked Mizan News Agency reported on February 19.

Zanjani became one of the most high-profile billionaires in a so-called "Nezaam" not known for overt showcasing ill-gotten accumulated wealth through his conglomerate called Sorinet. He amassed his fortune by using his knowledge and connections to find customers for Iranian oil while the country was under sweeping international sanctions during the 2000s.  His business group reportedly included 65 companies operating in Iran, Turkey, the United Arab Emirates, Malaysia, and ultimately Tajikistan, where most of Zanjani's funds were placed in several outfits, including a state-linked airline.

The jailed billionaire admitted to selling millions of barrels of Iranian oil on the government's behalf since 2014, using a web of companies in those countries, describing himself as an "economic Basiji," a religious term in Shi'ite Muslim culture.

However, despite his allegiance to the system that built his empire, Zanjani became the target of competing hidden factions within the Islamic Republic who were against then-President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's economic clique. 

Zanjani was arrested in December 2013 for withholding proceeds from oil sales. He was found guilty and sentenced to death but has remained in Evin prison in Tehran for more than a decade. His arrest came as part of a sweep of newly created oligarchs during the Ahmadinejad era. 

He was also ordered to return the entirety of the money he was found to have embezzled, plus another fourth of that amount, the corruption court ruled at the time. His airline Qeshm Air, was effectively nationalised after his arrest and continues to operate local and regional flights. 

He denies any wrongdoing and has argued that the sanctions made it impossible for him to transfer oil revenue back to the Islamic Republic. The billionaire had also been blacklisted by both the European Union and the United States for efforts to circumvent sanctions.

According to Mizan, the Judiciary’s news agency, Ejei said the assets of Babak Zanjani have been identified abroad and transferred to Iran.

He did not mention the value of the seized properties but claimed that extra funds would remain after adding the already returned amounts.

In 2021, the head of Iran's Supreme Court said that Zanjani could be pardoned or get a lighter sentence if he cooperates and gives back the assets to the state.

According to Ejeie, the convict admitted afterwards that he has $4bn in one country, plus more "in five or six other countries."

The delegations sent to those countries did not find any property or funds, the judiciary spokesperson said, but added that after eventual cooperation by the defendant the Iranian investigators were able to return the funds back to Tehran. 

In October 2023, Iranian Defence Minister Muhammad Reza Ashtiani visited Dushanbe on October 17–18. This is his first visit to Tajikistan after the start of the “thaw” in relations between the two countries, which were spoiled in 2015 at the instigation of Saudi Arabia.

As part of the trip to Dushanbe, Tehran demanded the return of the assets of the arrested Iranian billionaire Babak Zanjani, who owned property in Tajikistan and kept money in the local National Bank of Tajikistan, according to VB in Kyrgyzstan. 


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