IranWire has learned that Iran’s security forces and other authorities have repeatedly interfered in high profile corruption cases, including in the case of jailed billionaire Babak Zanjani.
IranWire’s source said that judges had been pressured to reach verdicts in a number of cases, including the case against Mehdi Hashemi Rafsanjani, the former president’s son, and that other cases — including political cases — had also possibly been affected as a result. In Zanjani’s case, the judicial process has almost come to a halt because of repeated interference.
In recent months, hopes that Iran’s judiciary would take decisive action in the Zanjani case have all but vanished. Parliament and Rouhani’s administration have both been banned from interfering, and any details of the case have been difficult to access.
But information obtained by IranWire suggest that intervention by security forces had led to even further delays, and that some judges had faced pressure when reaching verdicts.
According to judiciary spokesman and first deputy Chief Justice Gholam-Hossein Mohseni-Ejei, the first session of Zanjani’s trial is due to be held on October 3 at Branch 15 of the Revolutionary Court, which is presided over by Judge Abolghasem Salavati.
On July 6, Zanjani’s lawyer informed the media that his client has been charged with “inflicting economic harm on the system,” a charge with which Salavati is most likely not familiar. In recent years, Salavati, who is known for handing down harsh sentences, has been associated with a number of high profile cases, most of them security-related and political cases. Zanjani’s lawyer has said that the case has approximately 200 files attached to it, a hefty case for any judge, but certainly for one who does not regularly deal with corruption.
An informed source told IranWire that, as result of Judge Salavati’s preoccupation with the Zanjani case, the security and political cases he would normally handle have instead been assigned to Judge Mashallah Ahmadzadeh, also known for harsh sentences against defendants held on political and security-related charges.
The most famous case now before Judge Ahmadzadeh at Branch 29 of the Revolutionary Court is that of Mohammad-Ali Taheri, the founder of the Mystic Inter-Universal Circle spiritual order and promoter of an alternative medicine, who has been sentenced to death.
The other judge currently presiding over security and political cases is Judge Mohammad Moghisei at Branch 28 of the Revolutionary Court. He ruled on the trial of Mehdi Hashemi, son of former President Hashemi Rafsanjani, who was sentenced to 10 years in prison for corruption.
According to IranWire’s source, Judge Moghisei said that Mohseni-Ejei and Judge Mohammad Movahed, who presides over Branch 54 of the Revolutionary Court and decides on appeals cases, had both pressured him to reach the verdict on the Rafsanjani case.
The source added that the pressure on the judge in the Mehdi Hashemi Rafsanjani case had been reported to the office of President Rouhani, but that there was no indication that the verdict would be changed or thrown out.
Earlier this week, Mohseni-Ejei was asked about the verdict and whether there had been any agreement as to whether the case might be re-tried. “If somebody has information about this case and wants to tell us about it, it has nothing to do with carrying out the sentence,” he said. “There is no such agreement about this case and there is no arrangement not to carry out this sentence.”
But changes in the way the judiciary establishment carries out its caseload suggest that not only have corruption cases been affected by recent interference, but that political prisoners and human rights activists have also seen their trials delayed. IranWire’s source also said the recent shifts could signal a move toward more severe sentences for these prisoners. IranWire was given information about two cases that had originally been handled by Judge Salavati, but which were then handed over to Judge Ahmadzadeh, who issued even more extreme penalties against the defendants. IranWire is not in a position to release details, as this might have an impact on the prisoners.
Big Names in the Zanjani Case
IranWire has also been told that Babak Zanjani’s case implicates many influential figures in Iran, including the Deputy Intelligence Minister for Economic Affairs under Ahmadinejad, and Hossein Taeb, the Revolutionary Guard’s intelligence chief.
Over the past decade, one of the key responsibilities of the deputy intelligence minister in economic affairs has been to chair a Prevention Committee, which was established to tackle financial corruption. But the fact that the official has been named in this recent scandal around corruption cases suggests a move from preventing corruption to actual involvement in it.
“When Zanjani was arrested, a committee was formed in parliament to pursue the matter,” the newspaper Ghanoon reported on July 5. “This committee was in fact a joint committee of Article 90 [responsible for pursuing complaints against the three branches of Iran's government], energy committees, and representatives from the oil ministry and the central bank. It was chaired by Seyed Hossein Dehdashti of the Energy Committee. [But] Dehdashti told Ghanoon that the parliamentary committee to pursue Babak Zanjani’s case has been dissolved.” The paper said that no one from the legislature was pursuing the case, and that only members of the Energy Commission were currently involved.
IranWire hopes to publish more details about Zanjani’s case as it moves forward. And we hope to reveal why the media, parliament and the government have been banned from examining and reporting on the case. For now, it appears that these limitations are the result of direct intervention on behalf of security authorities and agencies, who have had direct involvement in the case.
To read more stories like this, sign up to our weekly email.