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Society & Culture

My Cellmate the Drug Kingpin

July 29, 2016
Fereshteh Nasehi
5 min read
My Cellmate the Drug Kingpin


  • Drug kingpins offer money for the upkeep of prisons in exchange for special treatment 
  • Dealers have freedom to continue their operations from behind bars
  • Wealthy drug barons offer charity to poorer inmates and even pay blood money fines in exchange for work

One of Iran’s wealthiest drug dealers remains behind bars. But his so-called eyes and ears — a man called Hasan — has finished his sentence and is back out on the streets.

The dealer, known as “Mr M,” was apprehended while transporting 164 kilos of crystal meth, according an Iranian Students’ News Agency interview with the secretary of Tehran’s Anti-Drug Coordination Council on June 15. “His wealth is astronomical and he own a whole town in the north of the country,” the official said.

On May 30, during a visit to Greater Tehran’s Prison Complex, the head of the Prisons Organization, Ali Asghar Jahangir, told reporters that Tehran’s jails currently held 32,277 inmates. Of this number, 14,000 are drug offenders.

Mr M. met Hasan in Rajaei Shahr Prison’s Ward 1, who was serving a 10-year prison sentence. One reason Hasan’s sentence was so long was that he could not afford to pay the blood money required by the court — he was driving without a license and became involved in a traffic accident in which a man died. He had no previous criminal conviction. After a period of working with Mr. M. inside the prison, Mr. M. rewarded him by agreeing to cover Hasan’s $10,000 fine. 

In return for Mr. M. paying Hasan’s blood money in full, Hasan is going to keep an eye on things outside the prison. “I am in his debt,” Hasan said. “I will get back at those villains who betrayed him.”

Charity from Drug Money

Hasan says that his benefactor is extremely rich, but that he also uses his money for good causes. “Mr. M. has enough money to buy half of Tehran,” he said. “He has done a lot of charity work in prison. He has bought refrigerators and coolers for many prisoners who could not afford them and has helped others. Last year he contributed a lot of money to a charity that helps prisoners to pay the blood money that they owe and get released.”

Mr. M. ran a vast cocaine distribution network in Tehran. When he was arrested, police found more than 10 kilograms of cocaine and unprocessed crystal meth at his lab. Hasan told IranWire that one of Mr. M’s rivals betrayed him. “A week before the arrest he was holding a sumptuous wedding banquet for his daughter — it cost him close to $2 million. At the banquet, he gave some of his dishonest competitors a dressing-down, and it was after that that he was arrested.”

According to Hasan, Mr. M. lacks nothing in prison and lives like aristocracy. But he also helps other prisoners. “He has trusted me with a lot of tasks,” he said, “from tending to the families of prisoners to other things. But before anything else, I want to take care of the person who betrayed Mr. M. He must pay for what he did.”

Hasan has been out of prison for only a month. “Don’t believe that drug convicts are all homeless addicts or small drug retailers,” he said. According to him, there are plenty of drug dealers currently in prison who are able to carry on their business with ease — they sell to inmates, but they also conduct business outside prison from behind bars. “Most of them are never executed,” Hasan said, referring to Iran's strict laws on drug trafficking, which allow for the death penalty in some cases. “They have their own organizations, minions, deputies and people who take care of their affairs.”

Reciting the Koran, Trafficking in Drugs

Aziz is a 28-year-old inmate at Rajaei Shahr’s youth ward. He told IranWire that until he got to prison, he had never seen so many drugs. He was amazed to see the variety of drugs that changed hands so easily in such a closed and restrictive environment. “Prison officials are involved in circulating the drugs,” he said. 

Aziz says that for three months he was cellmates with a well-known drug lord. “They sat around and made deals. I witnessed a mountain of money changing hands.”

He also described how smaller drug dealers can benefit in prison, particularly if they have religious leanings. “Last year, two common inmates by the names of Rasoul and Aziz (if I am not mistaken) who were very trusted by the prison’s cleric and who used to recite the Koran were transferred to this ward because they were involved in drug trafficking.” He said it was particularly interesting that the two men were actively involved in teaching the Koran in prison. 

“Their lifestyle is nothing like other prisoners,” Aziz said when asked about the drug kingpins he had come across in prison. “Expensive drapes hang in their rooms. They have top-notch refrigerators and freezers and order in their food from the best restaurants. They pay twice what other prisoners pay for chicken to get local fresh meat.” Aziz said the situation became so obvious and “scandalous” that prison authorities built the Fashafuyeh facility in Hasan Abad in southern Tehran just to house these privileged inmates. “The problem is that these drug kingpins work hand-in-hand with prison officials and agents.” Aziz said it does not matter that these individuals are in prisons. Life for them is good.  “They establish their own kingdoms at Fashafuyeh.”

Other inmates said that these drug lords pay for part of the prison’s expenses, laundering money to pay for repairs or just offering financial assistance flat-out. They also contribute funds so prisoners can mark major religious holidays in some way. “I have heard that at Fashafuyeh Prison, they have installed a TV set in every room,” Aziz said. “They have their own coffee shop and have set up a well-equipped clinic. Part of the cost of building the prison was paid by the drug lords. Now they are all gathered in one place and tend to their business. From inside the prison, they control drug trafficking on the outside.”


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