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Iran sentences billionaire businessman to death

TEHRAN, Iran - An Iranian court has sentenced a well-known tycoon to death for corruption linked to oil sales during the rule of former President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, the judiciary spokesman said Sunday.

Babak Zanjani and two of his associates were sentenced to death for "money laundering," among other charges, Gholamhossein Mohseni Ejehi said in brief remarks broadcast on state TV. He did not identify the two associates. Previous state media reports have said the three were charged with forgery and fraud.

"The court has recognized the three defendants as 'corruptors on earth' and sentenced them to death," said Ejehi. "Corruptors on earth" is an Islamic term referring to crimes that are punishable by death because they have a major impact on society. The verdict, which came after a nearly five-month trial, can be appealed.

Babak Zanjani

Babak Zanjani

iranwatch.org

According to Iranwatch.org, an Iran weapons watchdog, the E.U. has also linked Zanjani "to Iran's proliferation-sensitive nuclear activities or Iran's development of nuclear weapon delivery systems," and has helped the government in Tehran filter money to sanctioned entities in the country.

Iran's prosecutors contend Zanjani withheld billions in oil revenues channeled through his companies.

A news website run by the judiciary identified the two associates as British-Iranian businessman Mahdi Shams, who was detained in 2015, and the other as Hamid Fallah Heravi, a retired businessman.

Zanjani was arrested in 2013 during a crackdown on alleged corruption during Ahmadinejad's rule. Iran's Oil Ministry says Zanjani owes more than 2 billion euros ($2.25 billion) for oil sales he made on behalf of Ahmadinejad's government.

Zanjani is one of Iran's wealthiest businessmen, with a fortune worth an estimated $14 billion. He was arrested shortly after the election of President Hassan Rouhani, who ordered a crackdown on alleged corruption during the eight-year rule of his hard-line predecessor.

In a 2013 interview with the BBC, Zanjani claimed he was not a political person, saying: "I don't do anything political, I just do business."

Iran has in the past executed other wealthy individuals found guilty of similar charges. In 2014, Iran executed billionaire businessman Mahafarid Amir Khosravi over corruption charges.