Tajikistan’s Big Spender Admits He Helped Iran Launder Oil Money
One of the biggest businessmen operating in Tajikistan’s capital has admitted he’s been laundering Iranian oil money for years.
In August, EurasiaNet.org highlighted the Tajik wing of Iranian businessman Babak Zanjani’s transcontinental financial empire. The US Treasury had frozen Zanjani’s accounts earlier this year for allegedly helping Iran sell its oil, despite international sanctions. The EU has blacklisted him for the same. Now, under pressure at home, he says that’s exactly what he’s been doing all along, the New York Times reports, referencing an interview with the weekly Aseman magazine.
Beginning in 2010, Mr. Zanjani, who declined to be interviewed for this article, told the magazine and, in a separate meeting, the semiofficial Iranian Students’ News Agency that he used a spider web of 64 companies in Dubai, Turkey and Malaysia to sell millions of barrels of oil, earning $17.5 billion in desperately needed foreign exchange for Iran’s Oil Ministry, Revolutionary Guards and central bank.
“The central bank was running out of money,” he said in the Aseman interview, published last week. In 2010, “they asked me to bring their oil money into Iran so the system could use it,” Mr. Zanjani said of Iran’s political establishment. “So that is what I did.” […]
“This is what I do — antisanctions operations,” Mr. Zanjani said. “I am a businessman who has done his job well. Since I was placed under sanctions they haven’t managed to sell even three million barrels of oil.”
Zanjani seems to have good relations with Tajikistan’s strongman, Emomali Rakhmon. The two have met, as evidenced by a publicly available photograph, and the president reportedly attended the opening of a bus station Zanjani built earlier this year in Dushanbe. Zanjani is also said to be behind several large construction projects in the capital. All this has created concern that Tajik officials are looking the other way, as we reported in August:
That cushy relationship, in a country where foreign businessmen say it is impossible to survive without top-level political connections, has coincided this year with increased international scrutiny of Tajikistan’s lax attitude toward money laundering. […]
Few in Tajikistan seem to know much about Zanjani. Last month, the head of Tajikistan’s National Bank, Abdujabbor Shirinov, said he had never heard of Zanjani or the US embargo on Kont Investment Bank, the Ozodagon news agency quoted Shirinov as saying on July 23.
Nevertheless, senior Western officials are concerned about Zanjani’s relationship with Tajikistan’s leadership and worry that Dushanbe is serving as a money-laundering hub. “Zanjani’s been embraced by the president. The president even opened the bus station, which is unheard of. It’s too cozy a relationship. We believe he’s using Tajikistan to launder Iranian oil money,” said one senior Western official.
The Times reports that the new Iranian government is also concerned about Zanjani’s activities. Authorities in Tehran, the paper says, “suspect him of having worked with what they considered the corrupt inner circle of the previous president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. They accused Mr. Zanjani last week of withholding $1.9 billion in oil revenues, prompting Parliament to begin an investigation into his business dealings.”
So who knows, Dushanbe may suddenly be seeing more of Zanjani.
David Trilling is Eurasianet’s managing editor.