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Is Algeria the New Iranian Money Laundering Haven?

January 22, 2020
Ehsan Mehrabi
4 min read
Reza Moshir is known to most close associates of Mohammad Bagher Ghalibaf, and to his campaign team during the last presidential election
Reza Moshir is known to most close associates of Mohammad Bagher Ghalibaf, and to his campaign team during the last presidential election
Reza Moshir is said to have helped Mohammad Bagher Ghalibaf launder money while he was mayor of Tehran
Reza Moshir is said to have helped Mohammad Bagher Ghalibaf launder money while he was mayor of Tehran

On the eve of Iranian parliamentary elections, and as former presidential candidate and Tehran mayor Mohammad Bagher Ghalibaf bids for a seat in parliament, the name of Reza Moshir, his brother-in-law and a member of his campaign team, has come to the forefront.

Amir Moghaddam, former deputy chief of public relations and parliamentary affairs for President Rouhani, said in a tweet that Ghalibaf's brother-in-law “has been living in Algeria for years and reportedly travels regularly between Australia and Algeria.” The tweet also pointed out that Algeria had been identified as a country where money-laundering is rife. “Many Iranian looters keep their money there; does Moshir manage some of Ghalibaf's money there[?]”

Reza Moshir is known to most of Mohammad Bagher Ghalibaf's close associates, and to the staff that worked on Ghalibaf’s campaign to become president in 2017. He has been one of the chief organizers of his campaigns for various elections, and played a particularly active role in 2014. He has been especially close to young staff members working on the campaigns; it is still possible to find many of these campaign veterans referring to him in comments and posts on Facebook to this day, appealing for his guidance and support when seeking employment or government posts.

Reza Moshir, like other relatives of high-ranking officials, has never been promoted to a more senior role — perhaps to avoid drawing attention to his involvement in Ghalibaf’s campaign.

However, when Mohammad Bagher Ghalibaf was employed by Tehran’s municipality and had an influence over law enforcement, Moshir was one of his most instrumental mediators. 

Reza Moshir’s name has not yet been mentioned in any reports about corruption. However, Zahra Moshir, Ghalibaf’s wife, has been charged with first-degree corruption allegations, as set out in an article about a corruption case involving the Imam Reza Charitable Institution published in November 2017 by Shargh newspaper.

Moshir's presence in Algeria is significant, regardless of whether he can be linked to any corruption allegations. In recent years, it has mainly been other African countries, as well as Latin American countries, that have been identified as fertile grounds for bypassing sanctions and money laundering. Algeria’s role is less well known. Leaders of the Islamic Republic have only spoken very generally about official economic activities in Algeria in recent years, and have not disclosed any details. However, private banks and even some Iranian economists with ties to the government regularly operate in Algeria or have links to businesses there.

In June, the CEO of the National Bank of Iran and the ambassador of Algeria in Tehran emphasized the development and strengthening of economic, commercial, and banking relations between the two countries and announced their readiness for joint ventures. The central bank officials of the two countries also met in 2016.

Iran opened its first trade and industrial exhibition in Algeria in 2007. Economic relations between the two countries continued, and in 2017 they signed 19 memorandums of understanding, 15 of which concerned car and automotive component deals.

Since then, Iranian industrial companies have continued to have a strong presence in Algeria’s trade exhibitions, the latest being the presence of MAPNA, an Iranian conglomerate of industrial companies trading in oil, gas, power plants and transport, at the Al Jazeera industrial fair in mid-January.

In addition to these economic ties, the Iranian embassy in Algeria has also allegedly served as a meeting place for liberation and opposition groups. 

In 2019, after breaking diplomatic relations with Iran, Morocco announced that it had obtained credible and extensive documents proving that officials from both Hezbollah and the Polisario Front, a Western Sahara liberation group that Morocco has denounced, met at the embassy. Furthermore, Morroco claimed that, through Iran, Hezbollah has sponsored and trained troops in the Polisario Front since November 2016, thereby aiding the separatist movement.

Algeria has also been a mediator for Iran's money laundering activities in Malta. Among those involved was Ali Sadr Hashemi Nejad, the chief executive officer of Pilatos Bank, who was arrested in the US on charges of circumventing US sanctions and transferring millions of dollars to Iran.

Algeria used to be an essential mediator between Iran and the United States, as well as to Iran and Iraq. Crucial contracts between these counties were signed with the aid and support of Algeria. However, evidence is beginning to emerge that it has become a site for covert activities for those close to the Iranian government. There is speculation too that further deals are being done, but so far no proof has been presented.

For Iranians getting ready to go to the polls, however, the news that Mohammad Bagher Ghalibaf, who has been accused of multiple corruption cases in Iran, is now also reportedly involved in economic activities and corruptions abroad, will be of interest. At the same time, claims and disclosures of such schemes are unlikely to significantly damage his political standing.








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