Iran executes trader nicknamed ‘Sultan of Bitumen’

  • Hamidreza Bagheri Dermani is the third businessman to be executed since an anti-corruption drive was launched over the summer
  • He was convicted of ‘corruption on earth’, Iran’s most serious offence, after swindling over US$100 million, Tehran’s media reported
PUBLISHED : Saturday, 22 December, 2018, 6:24pm
UPDATED : Saturday, 22 December, 2018, 8:45pm

Iran executed a trader known as the “Sultan of Bitumen” on Saturday over charges of fraud and large-scale smuggling of the oil product, according to the judiciary’s news agency Mizan online.

Hamidreza Bagheri Dermani, 49, is the third businessman to be executed since an anti-corruption drive was launched over the summer.

He was convicted of “corruption on earth” – a broad Islamic charge used for the most high-profile and serious cases – after swindling more than 10 trillion rials (US$238 million) through “fraud, forgery and bribery”, Mizan reported.

Dermani, who was arrested in August 2014, reportedly forged dozens of real estate documents to acquire bank loans.

He then used front companies to procure more than 300,000 tonnes of bitumen – an oil-based substance used in asphalt and other products and one of Iran’s most profitable businesses – Mizan said.

US sanctions against Iran purely political

Dermani was also accused of ties to business magnate Babak Morteza Zanjani, who is awaiting execution after being convicted in 2016 of embezzling US$2.7 billion while helping the government circumvent international sanctions.

The judiciary said Dermani’s loans were facilitated by former central bank governor Mahmoud Reza Khavari, who was convicted in absentia last year after fleeing to Canada in the wake of yet another major embezzlement scandal.

News of Dermani’s execution was presented in dramatic fashion on state television, with an action-movie soundtrack and full documentary about his crimes.

The footage showed documents claiming Iranian journalist and women’s rights activist Hengameh Shahidi, sentenced earlier this month to 12 years in prison on unspecified charges, had tried to pay Dermani’s bail last year.

Iran has seen a sharp economic downturn this year, fuelled in part by US President Donald Trump’s decision in May to withdraw from a landmark 2015 nuclear deal and reimpose crippling unilateral sanctions.

The authorities have been keen to show they are cracking down on “economic disrupters” accused of exploiting shortages and fluctuations in gold and currency prices.

Dozens have been tried and in November a trader dubbed the “Sultan of Coins” and his accomplice were executed for exploiting a surge in gold demand.

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