By Pooya Stone
With the prime suspect in a major alleged corruption case linked the Central Bank of Iran mysteriously missing, people are wondering if the country's Intelligence Ministry is involved.
For the past two days, Iranian media outlets have been reporting that Salar Aqakhani (Aghakhani), the prime suspect in a case involving $160 million and €20 million, and three of his associates have left Iran. The Sharq newspaper wrote on Wednesday that Aqakhani left Iran for Iraq in late March after selling his assets.
But Aqakhani's lawyer said his client has not fled and is "cooperating with certain units", which is believed to relate to Iran's notorious intelligence agencies.
Aqakhani, who at just 27 or 28 is one of the youngest Iranians ever implicated in a major corruption case, was absent in the first court session in October, along with three others. The court sessions for the remaining five suspects have been held behind closed doors.
Aqakhani, who has been active in the forex market for four years through his connections at the Central bank, was also implicated in a 2017 corruption case when one of the suspects was executed. However, he appears a master at staying under the radar, with journalists unable to even find a verified photo of him.
In late 2017, the Central Bank in collaboration with the Intelligence Ministry inserted $160 million and €20 million in the forex market in an attempt to calm it after the suggestion of US sanctions caused it to fluctuate. This was carried out using 10 money changers, but Aqakhani, the agent of IRGC's Bank Ansar, received $140 million to inject into the market. (Bank Ansar has since denied any link to Aqakhani, but Sharq interviewed "informed sources" to establish a clear link between the two.)
This did not stop the devaluation of Iran’s currency and in March 2018 Aqakhani and several others were jailed for mishandling funds. He was released on bail when the Central Bank certified that his activities were lawful, but he was arrested again in August 2018, alongside Ahmad Araqchi, a deputy governor of the Central Bank.
Aqakhani was released on a large bail in March and reportedly hasn’t been seen since.
He is officially charged with smuggling the injected money, but it is not clear how that constitutes a crime, because he received the money from the Central Bank and returned the foreign currency to them. He is also charged with bribery, but it is not clear who he bribed.
It’s possible that Aqakhani and his associates waited until the dollar rose in value to make the exchange, therefore pocketing a personal profit, but this is not on the official charges.
Two of the other individuals implicated in this case are Ahmad Araqchi and Meysam Khodaei, who is an adviser to Mohammad Nahavandian, President Hassan Rouhani's deputy for economic affairs. his has led some to suspect that the case is just an excuse for judicial officials in the faction of Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei to discredit Rouhani.
The strangest aspect of the case is the role of the Intelligence Ministry, who confirmed that they were aware of six of the 28 meetings in which Aqakhani received the $140 million, while also saying that he was acting within the intelligence network. But could they have helped him get away?