Owing a huge amount of money to the government can get you a death sentence in Iran.
One of the richest men in Iran, Babak Zanjani, and two of his associates have reportedly been sentenced to death for embezzling billions of dollars from the state-run National Iranian Oil Company.
The oil tycoon allegedly made his fortune by selling oil under former Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmedinejad’s rule when the Islamic republic was facing crippling western sanctions because of its nuclear program.
Zanjani was arrested in December 2013, nearly four months after current President Hassan Rouhani took office.
Although the billionaire has previously denied political affiliations, his lawyer claims the verdict is politically motivated.
"We believe that Babak Zanjani in this case is just a debtor," Zohreh Rezalee told BBC.
Of the many charges the oil tycoon’s facing, including money laundering and forgery, the one that has prompted much controversy is “corruption on earth.” It carries the death penalty and has frequently been criticized by human rights advocates.
In 2012, Drewery Dyke of Amnesty International explained how the “vaguely worded” charge, known as Mofsed-e-filarz in Persian, is an “unwelcome addition to the catalogue of ways in which Iran finds it can execute its own citizens.”
From January 2015 to November 2015, Amnesty International recorded 830 executions in Iran, with the majority being related to narcotics, involving questionable trials.
Zanjani’s verdict can appealed, but considering Rouhani’s latest crackdown on wealthy businessmen accused of corruption, his chances appears bleak.
Just in 2014, Iran executed billionaire businessman Mahafarid Amir Khosravi over similar corruption charges.
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