Tehran: Iran executed a trader dubbed the “Sultan of Coins” and his accomplice on Wednesday for exploiting a surge in gold demand from savers spooked by this year’s currency crisis.
Vahid Mazloomin and accomplice Mohammad Esmail Ghasemi were both executed after being convicted of “corruption on earth” — Iran’s most serious capital offence — for “forming and running a network for disrupting the economy”, said the judiciary’s news agency Mizan online.
Iran has suffered 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 between major powers and Tehran and reimpose crippling unilateral sanctions.
Fearing for the economy, many Iranians rushed to secure their savings by buying foreign exchange and precious metals, causing the rial to lose around 70 percent of its value against the dollar and the price of gold coins to quadruple.
Police said Mazloomin had “amassed around two tonnes of gold coins” by the time of his arrest on July 2.
His network’s transactions were reportedly in the hundreds of millions of dollars.
“The octopus-like network disrupted the economy by buying, selling and smuggling foreign currency and gold coins,” Mizan said.
There have been widespread reports this year of dealers and middlemen manipulating the markets by hoarding dollars and coins in order to push up prices.
In August, supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei approved a request from the judiciary to set up special revolutionary courts to try people for economic crimes “urgently and justly” and several televised trials have taken place.
Mazloomin and Ghasemi were convicted on September 26 and their death sentences upheld by the Supreme Court on October 21.
A second co-defendant, Hamid Bagheri-Dermani, was also accused of corruption and sentenced to death at the original trial. His case is still up for appeal before the Supreme Court.
August also saw the head of the central bank sacked over his handling of the rial’s slide, and his deputy in charge of foreign exchange arrested.
Iran does not publish official statistics on the number of people it executes.
But according to an April report by Amnesty International, while secretive China is the world’s “top executioner”, Iran had the highest known figure in 2017 with at least 507 people put to death, six of them women.