Special courts set up in August have handed out multiple death sentences in similar cases
By Hubert Walker for CoinWeek ….
Two weeks ago, international news agencies reported that Iran had executed two men for hoarding gold coins. As part of a larger effort to control the Iranian economy after reimposed sanctions by the United States, the Supreme Court of Iran delivered a sentence of death by hanging to Wahid Mazloumin, 58, and his associate, Mohammad Ismail Ghasemi, on October 21.
Both men died around November 14.
The two were arrested in early July. Called the “Sultan of Coins” by Tehran police, Mazloumin was accused of hoarding two tons of gold coins–about 250,000 individual pieces–allegedly to manipulate prices on the local market. He was also accused of operating a currency trading network to carry out transactions not sanctioned by the state. Ghasemi, who some sources say was Mazloumin’s son, was arrested for his alleged role in Mazloumin’s network. Ghasemi was accused of being involved in the sale of gold coins and of belonging to a criminal gang.
Each man was charged with the religious crime of “Spreading Corruption on Earth”. In the Iranian legal system, this charge is punishable by death.
London-based human rights organization Amnesty International called the executions “horrific” and a violation of international law. Amnesty also faulted the Iranian government’s “fast-tracking” of the trials and subsequent lack of due process for the accused.
A Failing Economy
It is common for many Iranians to buy gold in an economic downturn. In a country where the government controls almost three-quarters of the economy, with nepotism and corruption commonplace, the average citizen does not put faith in the government’s ability (or desire) to fix the situation.
Since the United States withdrew from the Iran nuclear deal in May of this year, Iranians have been buying gold coins at a higher rate than usual. The economy had already been damaged by President Trump’s threat to reimpose sanctions, which caused many foreign companies to stop dealing with Iran. But after sanctions were reintroduced in early November, the Iranian rial has lost about 70% of its previous purchasing power–despite being pegged to the U.S. dollar in April.
Subsequent inflation has led to more than one vocal protest against official corruption. This has authorities worried, and they have begun to look for ways to quiet this public outcry.
In July, Iran arrested over 20 people for “economic disruption”, many of them charged with Corruption on Earth. In addition to Mazloumin and Ghasemi, 18 other individuals were detained for their activities in local currency exchanges. Many of them were also accused of hoarding gold coins.
Perplexingly, there does not appear to be any law in the Iranian code that actually criminalizes or limits the buying of gold or any other precious metal or hard currency.
It was not, however, the first time that Mazloumin was arrested on such grounds.
Iran conducted a similar crackdown in 2011 after the government announced an official rate of exchange for the rial. Mazloumin was arrested on the same charges that year and again in 2012, released each time only after the Central Bank of Iran came to his defense, claiming that Mazloumin, in his role as a currency trader, served as an agent of the bank.
In August of 2018, Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei approved the foundation of special courts to deal with a new round of financial crime. Unfortunately, the Central Bank did not save Mazloumin from these new courts, possibly because the Bank itself is now the subject of government scrutiny. A former deputy governor of the Central Bank is currently in prison, and a former governor finds himself banned from traveling outside the country.
The Iranian government hopes that the executions of Wahid Mazloumin and Mohammad Ghasemi serve as a warning to other currency traders and gold buyers, but economists say that such harsh methods exert only a short-term influence on the value of a currency. At the time of publication, 41,667 Iranian rials (IRR) trade for approximately $1.00 USD in official markets. On the black market within Iran, one dollar has been trading for more than twice that.
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