February 20, 2020
One of the primary suspects involved in a massive financial corruption case in Iran’s petrochemical sector has fled the country, a conservative local news outlet close to the Islamic Republic Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei reported on February 18.
“Former executive director of the Iranian Petrochemical Commercial Company (IPCC), Mehdi Sharifi Niknafs, has fled to the United Arab Emirates (UAE), the Young Journalists Club (YJC) disclosed.
Earlier, on February 2, the Islamic Republic Minister of Youth Affairs and Sports, had appointed Sharifi Niknafs as a member of the board of directors of Esteqlal soccer club.
Nevertheless, immediately after the YJC disclosure the ministry denied Sharifi Niknafs’ appointment.
Meanwhile, the YJC maintained that the investigative judge in charge of the corruption case in the Iran’s petrochemical sector had reduced his bail by approximately one million dollars. But YJC stopped short of mentioning the total amount of bail set for Sharifi Niknafs.
On March 13, 2019, the National Iranian Petrochemical Industries Company (NIPIC) announced that IPCC “has failed to return 500 million euros of debt to NIPIC since 2013.”
The statement also asserted that managers of IPCC paid the government for oil exports in local currency instead of euros, pocketing illegal profits in the process. The suspects allegedly kept the foreign currency gained from exports in their private accounts and stole the interest. Fourteen people have been charged in the case.
Fourteen people were indicted, and a long trial ensued, but Sharifi Niknafs’ name was not on the list of suspects.
An outspoken ultraconservative political activist and former legislator, Alireza Zakani, repeatedly insisted that the Ministry of Intelligence intervened in the trial process, noting, “Multiple crimes were committed in the Iranian Petrochemical Commercial Company (IPCC), under Mehdi Sharifi Niknafs’ directorship. He was the CEO of the IPCC for the past six years, yet his name is missing in the list of suspects.”
Zakani’s comments forced the judiciary to announce that Sharifi Niknafs was indeed one of the suspects and the legal case against him is under investigation.
During the trial and the corruption controversy it was revealed that all the exports and revenues referred to were indeed designed to circumvent international sanctions, before the Iran nuclear deal was signed in 2015. If the intelligence ministry was involved in the scheme, that could perhaps explain why Sharifi Niknafs was not initially indicted.
The oil and petrochemical sectors in Iran are directly or indirectly controlled by the state and top managers are appointed by the government.
The Islamic Republic judiciary and President Hassan Rouhani’s administration have not yet reacted to the YJC report.
The legal case concerning multiple violations in the Islamic Republic petrochemical sector has been branded as “the largest financial corruption trial in Iranian history.”
On January 28, the Islamic Republic Vice President Eshaq Jahangiri told Tasnim news, “Corruption has currently dominated the entire [Islamic]Revolution like termites. While some people are starving, others are lining their pockets with the national wealth.”