In America, corrupt billionaires get off too easy. A man was recently awarded a prestigious trophy for artistically making this exact point. Iran, it won’t surprise you to learn, swings the pendulum far in the opposite direction. Yesterday, the country announced that it plans to execute billionaire oil magnate Babak Zanjani after finding him guilty on corruption charges.
Zanjani was, at one point, essentially working on behalf of the government. As a way of circumventing economic sanctions imposed on Iran by countries belonging to the United Nations, Zanjani had set up a network of companies that he used to covertly sell the country’s oil. The state has accused him of withholding profits from those deals. Via the BBC, from when Zanjani was arrested in late December:
Mr Zanjani has acknowledged that since 2010 he has used a web of more than 60 companies based in the UAE, Turkey and Malaysia to sell millions of barrels of Iranian oil on behalf of the government, generating $17.5bn of desperately needed revenue.
After being accused of withholding money earlier this year, Mr Zanjani said that he had already transferred $700m, but that the international sanctions were preventing him from handing over the remaining $1.2bn.
“I will pay it back if they give me an account number tomorrow that accepts up to 1bn euros,” he was quoted as saying in an interview with an Iranian magazine. “How can I transfer the money when the oil ministry and the central bank are under sanctions? We also are not able to transfer the money, but the money is in the account.”
The verdict against Zanjani orders him and two co-defendants to repay the money that he says he is unable to transfer, but, via Newsweek, the trio were also convicted on a nebulous-sounding charge of “spreading corruption on Earth.” In the past, Western countries have asked Iran to overturn convictions that violate democratic standards of human rights, but it’s worth noting that Zanjani was blacklisted by both the United States and European Union over the very oil routing scheme that resulted in his arrest.