Iran executes trader dubbed ‘Sultan of Bitumen’

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

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 10 trillion rials (around $100 million at the current rate) through “fraud, forgery and bribery”, Mizan reported.

Dermani, first arrested in August 2014, reportedly forged dozens of documents of fake real estate 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.

Dermani was also accused of ties to business magnate Babak Morteza Zanjani, who is awaiting execution after being convicted in 2016 of embezzling $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 on Saturday, 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.

The authorities have been keen to show they are cracking down on “economic disruptors” 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 from savers spooked by this year’s currency crisis.

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.