On the morning of Wednesday, November 14, Vahid Mazloumin, known as “King of Coins,” and his associate Mohammad Esmail Ghasemi were executed in Tehran. They were tried and sentenced to death on the charges of “corruption on earth” through “creating a network of corruption” and “sabotaging the economic, monetary and currency system” of the country through illegal and unauthorized transactions and “major smuggling” of currency and coins.
Vahid Mazloumin’s arrest was reported on July 3. General Hasan Rahimi, Tehran’s police commander, announced that an individual nicknamed “King of Coins” had been arrested and had been in possession of two tons of gold coins. “This person,” said the general, “had ordered his lackeys to go around Tehran’s market and buy every available coin regardless of the price so that in the coming days he could set his own prices.”
At the time of his arrest, Iran’s currency and gold coin market was fluctuating wildly.
Vahid Mazloumin was a well-known figure in Tehran’s coin market and was initially given the nickname “Mullah.” According to a report by the newspaper Shargh on September 13, in 2001, before the attack on the twin towers in New York, Mazloumin had bought a large amount of gold coins. A trader in Tehran’s coin market told Shargh that after the 9/11 attacks the coin market became unstable, the prices jumped and Mazloumin, who had acquired a large number of coins, made a large profit. “’Damn you!’ his friends jokingly told him,” said the trader. “’You are the same Mullah Omar [former head of the Taliban] who ordered that attack and now you are reaping the benefits.’ Since that day they called him ‘Mullah’. Now you call him ‘King” but he was ‘Mullah,’ Tehran’s Mullah Omar.”
Working for the Central Bank
However, this is not the full story of Vahid Mazloumin. On July 15, 2018, 12 days after his arrest, the judiciary’s spokesman Gholamhossein Mohseni Ejei revealed that Mazloumin had previously been arrested in 2012 as well. “The Central Bank went to the court and told the court that he was working with them and the bank had given him the dollars,” said Ejei. In other words, Mazloumin was acting as an agent of the Iranian Central Bank in the currency and coin market.
The Central Bank was dragged into the case again when he and his associate were arrested earlier this year. “The Central Bank stepped in and said that these individuals had acted on the bank’s orders,” Ejei said on TV on September 10. And during the investigations, the defendants confirmed that they had been working with the Central Bank. “In 30 cases, each time they received and used between four to seven million dollars from the Central Bank,” said Ejei.
But then the case took a surprising turn. Later Ejei said that this time the judiciary ignored the claims of the defendants, although the current head of the Central Bank's Security Department was arrested and interrogated. Ahmad Araghchi, Deputy Governor of the Central Bank in Currency Affairs, and Valiollah Seif, former governor of the bank, were also questioned but were not arrested.
The trial of Mazloumin was held on September 8, and on October 1, the spokesman for the judiciary reported that he had been sentenced to death. Twenty days later Ejei announced that the Supreme Court of the Islamic Republic had upheld the death sentence.
In his last interview before his execution, published on November 14 by Mizan News Agency, an affiliate of the judiciary, Mazloumin denied that he had played any role in market fluctuations and said that the market had been affected by its own rules of supply and demand. He repeated that he had been working with the Central Bank and said: “if I had another chance to return to the market — which I don’t — I would do the same thing as before.”
Collateral Victims of an “Economic War”
The execution happened only 66 days after Mazloumin’s trial. The speed with which the judiciary acted in this case must have some link with the Judiciary Chief Ayatollah Sadegh Amoli Larijani's statement on August 11. On that day, in a letter to the Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei, he likened the current situation to an “economic war” and accused “a number of economic saboteurs and corrupt people” of “acting in step with the aims of the enemy” to initiate economic war. “The crimes that these people are committing requires quick and decisive action,” he wrote.
Ayatollah Larijani also asked the Supreme Leader for a two-year authorization for a special court to quickly deal with such individuals. Ayatollah Khamenei consented, with the statement: “Economic criminals must be punished quickly and justly.”
The case of Vahid Mazloumin was processed as quickly as the Supreme Leader intended, but whether the verdict was “just” or not is a different question. On the same day that the two were executed, Amnesty International condemned the process as a “show trial.” “With these abhorrent executions the Iranian authorities have flagrantly violated international law and once again displayed their shameless disregard for the right to life,” said Philip Luther, Amnesty International’s Middle East and North Africa Research and Advocacy Director. “Use of the death penalty is appalling under any circumstances but it is even more horrific given that these men were convicted after a grossly unfair show trial that was broadcast on state television.”
Among the Iranian public, a number of journalists and activists also condemned the executions on social media. Noting that, according to Tehran’s prosecutor, the defendants were found guilty of unauthorized dealings in coins and currency, the journalist Mahmoud Sadri tweeted that under Iranian law, such trades need no permit. Therefore, Sadri concluded implicitly, the executions were not legal — but murders.
Reformist academician and political pundit Sadegh Zibakalam tweeted that the defendants had tried to buy coins and dollars at the lowest price and sell them at the highest price. “I do not get it: What was their specific crime?” he asked.
“I cannot believe that today Vahid Mazloumin and Mohammad Ghasemi were executed,” tweeted human rights activist Emadeddin Baghi. “Based on what human or even sharia laws can you take away human lives based on such charges? Don’t we have prison sentences?”