32 stand trial over Iran's biggest bank fraud
TEHRAN, Iran (AP) -- A Tehran court began hearing the trial of 32 defendants Saturday in a $2.6 billion bank fraud case described as the biggest financial scam in the country's history, state TV reported.
The capital's chief prosecutor, Abbas Jafari Dowlatabadi, read the text of the indictment against the 32 accused, who wore prison uniforms at the opening session at the Revolutionary Court, which deals with cases involving security and organized crime.
The charges involve the use of forged documents to get credit at one of Iran's top financial institutions to purchase assets, including major state-owned companies.
Iran's judiciary has banned media from identifying the defendants by their full names. The primary defendant is referred to in reports by his nickname, "Amir Mansour Aria," and he is described in the Iranian media as the head of a sprawling business empire.
State TV's website quote the indictment as saying the owners of the Aria Investment Development Company used "incorrect connections with executive and political elements" to accrue wealth.
"Dozens of instances of bribe payments to staff and managers of banks have taken place under various titles," it said.
The indictment also said company managers undermined the country's economic security through engaging in organized fraud and paying large amounts of bribes to illegally accumulate several billion dollars.
"Not only did they prevent the progress and the increase of production and national wealth, they inflicted damage to people's trust and healthy economic activity," the indictment said.
State TV said the top defendant has been charged with being "corrupt on earth," an Iranian legal term meaning that the defendant is an enemy of God. The charge carries the death penalty.
Aria pleaded not guilty, but acknowledged that he has violated some laws.
"Some violations were committed and all that was on my order," TV's website quoted him as telling the court. "I had no intention of committing treason against the country and the (ruling) system. If I wanted to do so, I would have taken the money out of the country."
Mahmoud Reza Khavari, the former head of Iran's Bank Melli and one of the suspects in the case, has left Iran and now reportedly lives in Canada.
State TV said Judge Nasser Seraj must go through 12,000 pages of documents before he can issue a verdict in the high-profile case.
Aria's business empire reportedly includes more than 35 companies whose activities range from mineral water production to a football club and meat imports from Brazil.
The first details of the case became public in September.
(Copyright 2012 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)