Imprisoned Iranian businessman confesses to gold trade through Turkey

Imprisoned Iranian businessman confesses to gold trade through Turkey

İpek Yezdani - ISTANBUL
Imprisoned Iranian businessman confesses to gold trade through Turkey Babek Zanjani, an Iranian businessman currently imprisoned in Iran on corruption charges and connected to Turkey’s massive 2013 graft case, has confessed that his company brought 1.5 tons of gold from Ghana to Istanbul by a plane and took it to Dubai, according to Iranian media reports. 

Speaking in a court session on Nov. 23, Zanjani also claimed that the smuggled gold was fake. 

Zanjani is accused of stealing $2.8 billion from the Iranian state, and his trial started at the beginning of October. The Iranian state has seized his wealth both in Iran and abroad. 

In the hearing on Nov. 23, the judge asked about the location of some 1.5 tons of gold, which is claimed to have been brought by Zanjani from Africa. 

“One man, [identified by the initials A.], took a cash advance of $5 million in Africa. My representative went there by a passenger plane from Turkey to take the delivery of 1.5 tons of gold, along with two observation officers. They called me and said they had seen the gold, but customs in Ghana asked for $1 million in order to take the gold out of the country. We paid this amount without taking any official document. The gold was then loaded and came to Istanbul,” Zanjani said during the hearing. 

“However, the man called A. said the Istanbul police suspected there was smuggled cargo on the plane. Police therefore boarded the plane and asked for documents. We showed the documents to customs in Istanbul but they wanted the original copies, which we did not have. I asked A. about where the original copies were, and I was then told that $5 million was demanded for the original documents and we needed to pay this amount. So overall we paid a total of more than $11 million. In order not to pay higher customs fees, the cargo was referred to as ‘fake’ on the documents. In the end, the gold cargo was taken from Istanbul to Dubai, where another man was cited as its owner. When this man and my partners went to customs to unload the cargo, they saw that there was acrylic on the gold plates showing they were fake,” he added. 

Zanjani was also asked whether he sent 445 million euros to Safir Gold, a company owned by Reza Zarrab, his alleged business partner in Turkey, through Iran’s Parsian Bank and Samayeh Bank, in addition to a 12 million-euro commission fee. 

“The Iranian Central Bank’s money was in the accounts of these two banks. These banks wanted to transfer this money to Turkey’s Halkbank. Both these banks and Halkbank took a commission fee. Zarrab didn’t take any commission fee, but these banks did,” he said. 

Some 1.5 tons of gold were caught in an ULS Airways airplane in January 2013. It was claimed that the gold plates found were smuggled illegally from Ghana and the rent price of the airplane was paid by one of Zenjani’s companies, Kont Group Cosmetics Ltd. Zencani was then accused of “bringing gold” into Turkey through Zarrab’s companies, as he could not place the gold’s monetary equivalent in international markets due to sanctions on Iran.