Iranian corruption fugitive caught after international manhunt
TEHRAN - An Iranian man accused of helping to embezzle billions of dollars while the country evaded international oil sanctions has been arrested after a lengthy international manhunt, media reported Monday.
Alireza Zibahalat Monfared, 43, is accused of involvement in Iran's biggest-ever corruption scandal, working alongside tycoon Babak Zanjani who was sentenced to death last year for pocketing $2.8 billion while helping the country bypass sanctions.
The head of Iran's international police department, Masoud Rezvani, told Mizan Online that Monfared had been extradited via Havana and Moscow before arriving in Tehran on Sunday.
Monfared had various passports and had managed to escape extradition at least once when he was briefly detained in Malaysia, Rezvani added, without giving further details.
Unconfirmed reports said he had finally been arrested in Dominica, according to the state-run Iran Daily newspaper.
"He had close contacts with the main individuals in the great oil embezzlement file and was handed to the judiciary," Rezvani said.
The arrest comes after President Hassan Rouhani lashed out at the judiciary for failing to target other people involved in the Zanjani case.
"How is it possible that a single man can pocket $3 billion? Who has helped him? Who are his accomplices?" Rouhani said earlier this month in a rare criticism of the judiciary.
Before his trial, Zanjani would regularly boast in media interviews of his wealth and skills in finding ways round global banking sanctions to ensure Iran continued to receive money for international oil sales, saying he acted at all times with the support of then-president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.
Zanjani's lawyer, Rasoul Kouhpayehzadeh, welcomed Monfared's arrest, saying it would prove his client's innocence.
Monfared's "interrogation and trial will shed light on many issues and unsolved puzzles," Kouhpayehzadeh said, according to Iran Daily.
"My client had no role in the trade of oil consignments. (Monfared) played an important role in the sale operations... In fact, he did the oil operations."
Zanjani was arrested in 2013, three months after Rouhani took office pledging a crackdown on corruption that has shown limited results.
The head of the judiciary, Ayatollah Sadegh Larijani, hit back at Rouhani's criticism over the case, saying the government and foreign ministry were "not doing their duty of tracing the money taken abroad by Zanjani".
Iranian authorities have so far only been able to recover about $600 million of the embezzled money from the seizure of Zanjani's assets in Iran.
Larijani also revealed claims made by Zanjani during his questioning that he had paid hundreds of thousands of dollars to presidential candidates in 2013, although he did not give any names.
"The government is ready to shed light on its accounts and expects the judiciary to do the same," Rouhani retorted on Twitter last week.
News of Monfared's arrest comes on the first anniversary of the lifting of sanctions against Iran following an agreement with world powers over its nuclear programme.