Iranian jailed tycoon, Babak Zanjani attending court hearing session. (Supplied)

By Daniel Keyvanfer

Jun 11, 2021

Revolutionary Guards commander Mahmoud Seif. Mohammad Hadi Razavi, the son-in-law of Labor Minister Mohammad Shariatmadari. Hossein Hedayati, known as the Football Bank’s “cash machine”. Abolfazl Mir Ali, managing director of Samen al-Hojaj Finance and Credit Institution and a figure close to the current Judiciary Chief Ebrahim Raeesi. Hossein Fereydoon, President Rouhani’s elder brother.

These are just a handful of the well-known political figures in Iran who have been sentenced to prison terms of between five to 30 years, many on charges linked to corruption. But did the bars, walls and the guards manage to keep them in? See for yourself.

Hossein Fereydoon, President Rouhani’s Brother

On October 1, 2019, Hossein Fereydoon, the elder brother of President Hasan Rouhani, was sentenced to five years in prison and a fine of 31 billion tomans (close to US$7.4 million at the official rate) on being convicted of “taking bribes”.

Then on October 16, Fereydoon was summoned to Evin Prison to begin serving his sentence. Immediately after he arrived, he was assigned a well-furnished and well-equipped suite on Ward 4. But just hours later, he left on a leave of absence. He didn’t even spend spent enough time in prison to drink a cup of tea.

Fereydoon’s “furlough” was first reported on social media but only confirmed by the semi-official Fars News Agency on October 20, 2019.

According to furlough regulations, Fereydoon should only have qualified for a leave of absence after serving at least 10 months of his of five-year prison sentence. He returned to prison on October 20 but, again, was granted furlough after just four days inside. IranWire’s own research indicates that he is not in jail now either, and has in fact only spent about 60 days behind bars since he first entered Evin.

The suite was later passed on to Akbar Tabari, a former deputy head of the Iranian judiciary who was sentenced to 31 years in prison in September 2020 for a long list of offences including corruption, bribery and money laundering. But he in turn had been a close associate of Sadegh Larijani, the judiciary chief who had since been replaced with Ebrahim Raeesi, and Raeesi saw no reason to treat Tabari with kid gloves, so he lost the suite and is now serving time at Evin Prison’s Ward 4.

Babak Zanjani, the Billionaire Sentenced to Death

Babak Zanjani, an oil billionaire who was sentenced to death in 2016 over such crimes as “disrupting the national economy”, embezzlement and money laundering, is not only not in prison but is living in his own luxury villa in Lavasan, near Tehran. This area is full of opulent homes but Zanjani’s is one of the more famous.

On May 23, a well-placed source told IranWire that Zanjani had been living in his villa for the past two months. On April 27, when asked about the rumors that Zanjani had left Iran outright, judiciary spokesman Gholamreza Esmaili categorically denied the rumors but did not add that he was in prison, as he had when the same question was put to him in 2019.

Bijan Ghasemzadeh, Ex-Judge

Bijan Ghasemzadeh was formerly the examining magistrate of Branch 2 of Iran’s Culture and Media Court. He was arrested in September 2019 but remained in detention for just three months before being released on bail.

Ghasemzadeh was tried along Akbar Tabari in September 2020. Prior to this, his claim to infamy had been having given the order to filter Telegram in 2018, as well as prosecuting  many journalists, artists and sports figures on baseless charges.

On September 12, 2020, Ghasemzadeh was sentenced to 10 years in prison, a fine and 74 lashes for “allowing individuals to affect judicial decisions” and “taking bribes”.

A little later, charges that Ghasemzadeh himself had brought against the journalist Hadi Kasaeizadeh for “publishing lies with the intention of disturbing the public mind” and “insulting government officials” for posting a selfie with a cow on his Instagram page were overturned by the court.

Ghasemzadeh, however, remains free and has still not been summoned to begin serving his prison sentence. According to IranWire’s sources, he too lives between a luxury apartment in the affluent neighborhood of Gheytarieh in Tehran, and in an expensive villa in Babol, on the southern coast of the Caspian Sea.

Parviz Kazemi, Former Welfare Minister

The trial of the various figures accused in the  Sarmayeh Bank corruption scandal, one of the biggest of its kind ever to have taken place in Iran, was held in segments and featured a number of different defendants. One of them was Parviz Kazemi, who was tried alongside Mohammad Tavassoli and Ali Bakhshayesh.

Kazemi served as Minister of Welfare and Social Security in Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s first cabinet, but was kicked out after just one year in office in 2006 due to irreconcileable differences with the president. He then went into business and banking and, for a time, was chairman of the board of Sarmayeh Bank. The corruption charges against him were connected to this period.

At that time, Mohammad Reza Tavassoli was also a member of the board and Ali Bakhshayesh had, for a while, served as the bank’s CEO. Tavassoli had also been an MP for two terms and went on to take key positions with multiple corporations, including the board of National Iranian Copper Industries.

On March 18, 2019, Judge Asadollah Masoudi-Magham, presiding over Branch 3 of the Economic Crimes Special Court, sentenced each of the three to 20 years in prison, 74 lashes to be administered in public, and a lifetime ban on holding government positions. Then on April 24, 2019, it was announced that all three had been arrested and taken to prison to begin serving their sentences.

Their incarceration, however, did not last long. Six short months later Kazemi, who was serving time at Evin Prison’s Ward 4 along with Tavassoli and Bakhshayesh, was given medical leave of absence to treat problems with his heart. But the same thing then happened to Bakhshayesh and Tavassoli; two months after Kazemi, they were granted a medical leave of absence.

All three returned to prison in May 2020, but after the coronavirus outbreak in Iran, they were again given leave along with some other prisoners. Bakhshayesh and Tavassoli returned to prison a few months later, but were then furloughed again. At the time of writing, however, Kazemi had not returned to prison at all.

Mohammad Hadi Razavi, Minister’s Son-in-Law

Mohammad Hadi Razavi was the CEO of a holding company by the name of Fatemi, and one of the main defendants in the Sarmayeh Bank corruption case. He is the son-in-law of Mohammad Shariatmadari, President Rouhani’s Minister of Cooperatives, Labor and Social Welfare. Politically, however, he is closer to the principalists.

Hadi Razavi was charged with embezzlement and “disruption of the economy” over his having received 2.11 trillion rials (about $51 million) in loans from banks, including Sarmayeh, which he had failed to pay back

On July 30, 2019, a judiciary spokesman reported that Razavi had been sentenced to 20 years in prison and 74 lashes, and had been banned from holding government jobs. A few days later he was sent to Evin Prison.

Then on March 15, 2020, he was granted a leave of absence that lasted for about two months. According to Iranian law, he should have become eligible for a furlough only after serving at least three years of his 20-year sentence. According to an IranWire source, as of now he has been outside the prison for more than 200 days straight.

Mohammad Reza-Khani, Ex-Bank CEO

Mohammad Reza-Khani was the CEO of Sarmayeh Bank in 2016. He was arrested in 2019 and on May 6, 2020, was sentenced to 20 years in prison, 74 lashes, a lifetime ban on holding government jobs and a cash fine of €640,000 over receiving bribes and “disrupting the national economy” while he was the bank’s CEO.

Like many of those charged with financial crimes, Reza-Khani was first sent to Evin Prison’s Ward 4 and then on to Greater Tehran Penitentiary, more commonly known as Fashafuyeh.

In early 2021, Iran’s Supreme Court abruptly overturned his conviction and he was released.

Ali Divandari, Ex-Bank CEO

Ali Divandari was once the CEO of Bank Mellat and Bank Parsian, and the head of the Central Bank’s Monetary and Banking Research Center. He was arrested in connection with the $165 million embezzlement at Banks Mellat and Parsian, and was later sentenced to 20 years in prison by the Economic Crimes Special Court for “disrupting the national economy” and embezzlement.

Divandari was then detained on January 28, 2020 and sent to Evin Prison. On August 11, 2020, he was diagnosed with Covid-19 and transferred to the clinic at Evin Prison. Two days later, he was taken to a hospital outside the prison.

Ten months have passed since then. But in that time, Divandari has spent just eight days back inside, in late 2020. At the end of those eight days, he was granted furlough and has been on the outside ever since.

Mehdi Hashemi Rafsanjani, Former President’s Son

Mehdi Hashemi Rafsanjani, son of the late Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, was sentenced to 10 years in prison in June 2015 by Branch 28 of the Revolutionary Court for embezzlement, bribery and a “security” crime.

He was sent to Evin Prison on August 9, 2019 to begin serving his sentence. Since then he, too, has repeatedly been granted furlough. He is now officially incarcerated at Evin Prison’s Ward 7 but, like clockwork, leaves every two weeks on Wednesdays and returns on Sundays. What’s more, the leaves of absence have sometimes lasted up to four months.

Mahmoud Seif, Revolutionary Guards Commander

Commander Mahmoud Seif, also known as Mohsen Sajjadi-Nia and by a few other pseudonyms besides, was also convicted of economic crimes. His name first came to the attention of the media because of his former wife, Shahrzad Mirgholikhan who was jailed in the United States in 2009 for trying to buy 3,000 helmet-mounted military night vision systems from Austria, ostensibly for Iran.

Mirgholikan was released in 2012 and, after returning to Iran, was appointed the director of public and international relations at PressTV, Iran’s English-language TV channel. Then when Mohammad Sarafraz was appointed head of Islamic Republic of Iran Broadcasting (IRIB), he chose Mir Gholikhan as his “special inspector,” tasked with monitoring the activities of state television’s various departments.

A mere month after her return to Iran, the Intelligence Ministry summoned Mirgholikhan and pressured her to sign a pledge that she would not write, give interviews or publish any videos about her marriage to Mahmoud Seif.

She did, however, write a book in which she mentioned Mahmoud Seif and was summoned by the Revolutionary Guards’ Intelligence Corps for questioning as a consequence. Mirgholikan would later say that during interrogation, the Guards intelligence officers treated her appallingly.

In the end, she was unable to prove her case and was forced to resign. She then left the country and went to Oman. Her former boss, Sarafraz, defended her, and accused the Guards of acting “ridiculously” and “illogically”. This in turn led to his dismissal as the head of the IRIB.

After leaving Iran, Mirgholikhan repeatedly told the media that Mahmoud Seif was a deeply corrupt person who had been instrumental in her harassment by the Revolutionary Guards. Then Seif’s name came up again, as part of a major investigation into the Tehran-based Yas Economic Development Group, in the course of which a number of senior figures – from ex-deputy mayor Isa Sharifi to Guards commander Massoud Mehrdadi – were implicated and in some cases charged. In the end, Seif was sentenced to 30 years in prison.

Seif has been in jail since early 2019 and was transferred to Evin Prison’s Ward 4 in the summer of 2020. A cellmate of his, who asked to remain anonymous, told IranWire that before his sentence was upheld, once in a while Seif would don civilian clothes, leave the prison compound and return late at night. According to this cellmate, he enjoyed an array of privileges inside prison and even had a personal bodyguard.

On March 17, 2021, judiciary spokesman Gholamhossein Esmaili boasted that Seif’s 30-year prison sentence was proof that the Islamic Republic was serious about fighting corruption. The very next day, Seif was let out on a leave of absence – one that again, did not conform to the prison regulations – and still has yet to return.

The Laws and Regulations on Furlough

According to both the Islamic Republic’s Code of Criminal Procedure and the judiciary’s Regulations for Organizing Prisoners, a leave of absence is not a right.

Furlough depends on the prisoner’s behavior, security considerations and the assent of the Prisons Organization. According to the Prison Organization’s own procedures, it can also only be granted once a convict has served at least one-sixth of a sentence of up to 15 years, or three years into a sentence of more than 15 years. These rules also set the duration of any furlough at three to five days.

Prisoners who are not automatically eligible for furlough include those convicted of armed or violent robbery, espionage, activities against national security, kidnapping, organized crime, rape, brothel-keeping, acid attacks, disruption of the national economy, the importation, production and sales of alcoholic beverages, and armed drug-smuggling. The furlough requirements for types of convicts are much tougher to meet.

Based on the existing legislation and rules, not one of the individuals discussed in the report qualified for the extensive leave they have all enjoyed. As such, the question must be put to Iran’s judiciary: based on what criteria are powerful individuals granted their freedom and the chance to enjoy civil life, while tens of thousands of political prisoners and Iranians convicted of lighter, even trivial charges are denied the same?

Iran Wire

About Track Persia

Track PersiaTrack Persia is a Platform run by dedicated analysts who spend much of their time researching the Middle East, in due process we fall upon many indications of growing expansionary ambitions on the part of Iran in the MENA region and the wider Islamic world. These ambitions commonly increase tensions and undermine stability.