Iran says billionaire can evade death sentence by returning cash

The death sentence of Iranian billionaire Babak Zanjani can be commuted if he cooperates by returning the money he is accused of embezzling from the state, Justice Minister Mostafa Pour Mohammadi said.

“Whenever we see the money back in our bank account, we will say that he has cooperated,” Pour Mohammadi said, according to a report Tuesday by the Iranian Students News Agency. “So far, we haven’t seen him cooperate.”

An Iran court sentenced Zanjani to death on Sunday after finding him guilty in an oil fraud case. Zanjani was charged with embezzling $2.7 billion from the state-run National Iranian Oil Co. during transactions intended to circumvent international sanctions on crude exports, according to state media.

Zanjani was cited by his lawyer as saying after hearing the ruling that his sole aim was to “serve the political establishment,” according to state-run Tasnim news agency. Lawyer Rasoul Kouhpayezadeh said he will appeal the death sentence.

The embezzlement occurred during the presidency of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, around the time when international sanctions against Iran peaked in 2012. Zanjani, who previously operated as an informal dealer at the oil ministry, was arrested in December 2013 after the election of President Hassan Rouhani and brought to trial last year.

By Bloomberg Business