Iran Charges Detained Environmentalists, Moves Toward Global Financial Standards

Week of October 8, 2018 | Iran Unfiltered is a weekly digest tracking Iranian politics & society by the National Iranian American Council | Subscribe Here

  • Parliament passes key legislation to meet Financial Action Task Force’s (FATF) global standards
  • Contentious debate over FATF bills sees protests and MPs threatened
  • Indictments brought against five of eight detained environmentalists
  • Intelligence Ministry spars with judiciary and IRGC over environmentalists
  • Officials laud prospective European payment system to facilitate Iran trade
  • Parliamentary speaker attends Eurasian parliamentary summit

Iran this week made progress towards passing legislation that would allow it to meet anti-money laundering and terrorism financing standards set out by the Financial Action Task Force (FATF). The Paris-based FATF, an intergovernmental body that sets global standards for banks, has since 2016 suspended countermeasures against Iran, conditioned on Iran implementing an action plan to come in compliance with FATF standards. Ahead of a mid-October FATF deadline and after rancorous domestic debate, four bills introduced by the Rouhani administration to meet the FATF standards have overcome major opposition in parliament, with a key bill passed this week. The bills have yet to all be approved by the Guardian Council and Expediency Council, but their final passage is now likely. In other developments, five of eight environmentalists detained last January have now been issued indictments. The case against the environmentalists on espionage charges has spurred immense controversy and division at the highest levels of government, with the intelligence ministry dismissing the charges made by the judiciary and the IRGC’s intelligence agency.

 

Fierce Parliamentary Debate Over Key FATF Bill

On Sunday, October 7th, one of the four bills for Iran meeting FATF standards, on Iran acceding to the terrorist financing (TF) convention, went to the parliament for review. Before it went up for a vote, a meeting was held to discuss the bill in the parliament’s national security and foreign policy committee, which included the intelligence minister and foreign minister, the head of the economy ministry, the head of the central bank, and the legal deputy of President Hassan Rouhani.

Later, while MPs were speaking in favor or against the bill, a number of MPs from the conservative Velayat faction held up placards emphatically denouncing the bill. The signs read: “With the passing of the CFT, the people’s dinner table will shrink,” “I won’t give away intelligence on the country’s economy during an economic war,” “No to transparency for the enemy,” “I will not vote for a colonialist convention.”

During his remarks, Foreign Minister Javad Zarif stressed the importance of passing the FATF bills if Iran is to continue trade with Russia, China, and Europe. Zarif stated: “The Chinese and Russians have told us, if Iran’s situation with the FATF is not normalized, we cannot work with Iran. The mechanism Europe is starting also cannot be implemented without FATF.” Zarif also attempted to set realistic expectations regarding the effect of the FATF measures, saying that while passing the bills will not solve all the country’s problems, not passing them will “give a major excuse to America to increase our problems.”

After Parliamentary Speaker Ali Larijani announced the bill would go up for a vote, conservative MP Mohammad Javad Abtahi went behind the parliament’s main podium and in protest ripped up papers he was holding on the parliament’s internal rules and procedures and threw them towards Larijani.

The final vote passing the bill was 143 in favor and 120 against, out of 271 MPs present. The bill must now go to the Guardian Council for approval. Fararu wrote on October 7th: “The bill on Iran ascending to the terrorist financing convention is one of four bills to meet the FATF standards, for which Iran has less than 10 days left to implement the FATF guidelines.”

Outspoken reformist MP Parvaneh Salahshouri, in response to vociferous criticisms and even death threats, defended her vote for the bill. “From last night messages cursing me and making death threats have started … but the delvapasan (the “worried,” a term anti-JCPOA conservatives used to describe themselves inside Iran) should know that life is in the hands of God, not them,” Salahshouri proclaimed. “However, with these threats it’s possible that a person’s life will be cut short by one of these delvapasans, which itself would be a source of pride, to leave this world in the fight against corruption and money laundering and terrorism.”

On October 10th, Abbas Ali Kadkhodaei, spokesman for Iran’s Guardian Council, announced that the errors it had previously found with two other FATF bills, namely the bill for implementing the Palermo convention (which deals with organized crime) and the bill reforming Iran’s anti-money laundering law, have been resolved. However, Kadkhodaei stated that the errors found by the Expediency Council, another constitutional body ordained with settling disputes between the Guardian Council and parliament, are yet to be resolved. As such, the two bills are being returned to the parliament “to decide on the Expediency Council’s view.”

Kadkhodaei added that the Guardian Council has not yet reviewed the just-passed bill on Iran acceding to the terrorism financing convention. Meanwhile, the fourth FATF bill, on reforming Iran’s law on confronting terrorism financing, has already been approved by the parliament and Guardian Council.

 

The Plight of Eight Detained Environmentalists

Last January, eight environmentalists working for the Persian Heritage Wildlife Foundation (PHWF) – including a dual U.S.-Iranian citizen – were arrested alongside PHWF’s chairman, Kavous Seyed-Emami. Two weeks after their arrest, authorities announced Seyed-Emami committed suicide while in custody. However, the family of Seyed-Emami rejected that suspicious narrative, with Seyed-Emami’s son stating: “There are so many inaccuracies in the official story, from the day that he died to how he died, that these contradictions just added more to our suspicions about what actually went down.”  

The remaining eight environmentalists have been held without formal charges since January. Allegations of espionage have been leveled against them by the judiciary and the Revolutionary Guards’ intelligence agency, who claim the environmentalists gave classified information regarding a sensitive location to foreign intelligence agencies.

However, the espionage allegations have been dismissed multiple times by the Intelligence Ministry, which is under the purview of President Rouhani. The sharp divide over the environmentalists has elicited strong denunciations of the way the case against them has been pursued. Issa Kalantari, the head of Iran’s environmental agency, said in regard to their case: “We don’t say that these individuals should be freed or executed, but we want to know what is going to happen to them, which we are entitled to as part of our civil rights.”

State-news agency IRNA has also cast doubt on the case against the environmentalists. A recent IRNA piece stated: “Isn’t the long amount of time it has taken connected to [the judiciary] not having enough evidence for their cases?” It went on: “Why is it when the intelligence ministry is the principal responsible party regarding espionage and collecting evidence in this regard and has dismissed the espionage charges, why are judicial officials saying there is ‘enough documentation to prosecute this case?'”

On October 8th, the lawyer for two of the detained environments, Mohammad Hossein Aghasi, said that indictments had been issued against five of eight environmentalists detained last January. The five who have now been issued indictments are Taher Ghadirian, Niloufar Bayani, Houman Jowkar, Sepideh Kashani, and dual Iranian-American citizen Morad Tahbaz. The three who have yet to be issued indictments are Amir Hossein Khaleghi, Abdolreza Koughpayeh, and Sam Rajabi.

On October 8th, Aghasi met with one of his clients: Sam Rajabi. He told IRNA: “On Monday, an investigative meeting was held in the interrogation branch of the security prosecutor’s office, in which I participated as my client’s lawyer.” Aghasi added that this was the only meeting that the interrogator had allowed for Rajabi to have with the lawyer he requested.

Aghasi is hopeful that by next week, there will be positive news regarding Sam Rajabi’s case. Aghasi stated: “I believe by the middle of next week in his case the final decision of the prosecutor will be announced and that we can have good news for Sam Rajabi’s family.”

Aghasi has also said that an individual in the prosecutor’s office tried to scare the families of the detained environmentalists to get them to accede to choosing lawyers from a list of twenty lawyers provided to them. Aghasi said this judiciary official told the families that the accused would be charged with “sowing corruption,” a serious offense in Iran. However, Aghasi rebuked this as a scare tactic to get the families to accede to choosing lawyers from a list provided to them.

Aghasi says that a judiciary official has told him that low-level charges are being pursued against the environmentalists. Aghasi states that this judiciary official told him the charges being pursued against the environmentalists were of the “third grade,” meaning they are at a low level, whereas the charge of “sowing corruption” is the highest-level offense in Iran.

 

Other Developments

On October 7th, Mahdi Hajati, a member of Shiraz’s city council was released from custody after paying 200 million tomans in bail. He was arrested on September 27th for publicly defending two detained members of the Bahai faith.

In an interview with Iran newspaper, Hossein Salahvarzi, the head of Iran’s chamber of commerce, discussed the new payments system being devised by the EU to facilitate trade with Iran. Salahvarzi described the system as a replacement for SWIFT, the international financial transactions system that the Trump administration seeks to remove Iran from. Salahvarzi stated: “With this replacement for SWIFT, countries that wish to engage in non-dollar trade can do so with this system. This is a very appropriate action for Iran because now with the return of sanctions, our banking relations won’t be cut.”

Salahvarzi added that the EU aims to have the new payments system functioning before U.S. sanctions return on November 5th. He stated: “The European SWIFT is past the stage of talking and negotiation and has made a lot of progress and is close to dealing with technical issues.” He added: “The Europeans are trying to launch the SWIFT-like system before the reimposition of the second round of U.S. sanctions on November 5th, so countries can use it for banking relations with Iran. They are treating this as a deadline in terms of starting up this SWIFT-like system.”

Mohammad Bagher Nobakht, vice president and head of the Planning and Budget Organization, went to parliament to discuss new social welfare systems being devised by the Rouhani administration to offset the impact of sanctions.  According to Salman Khodadadi, the head of the parliament’s society commission, this includes providing debit cards for the purchasing of goods: “The head of the planning and budget organization explained the administration’s support packages for low-income people in society … Mr. Nobakht in this meeting stated that debit cards with 100,000 tomans would be provided to 11 million people, which would allow them to buy from chain stores.”

Speaker of the Parliament Ali Larijani travelled to Turkey to participate in the third annual gathering of the Eurasian parliament. During the summit, he met with the head of Russia’s Duma legislative body. Larijani said to the head of Russia’s Duma: “The behavior of the Americans on international issues has gotten more hardline and problematic. We are continuing to endeavor to preserve the JCPOA, and expect the Europeans to meet their commitments [under the JCPOA] soon. At the same time, our economic and trade cooperation after the Volgograd agreement are being implemented in good fashion.”



Below Please Find More Detailed Quotations and Translations:

On October 7th, after a contentious and dramatic debate in parliament that saw one MP tear up a document and throw it at parliamentary speaker Ali Larijani, the parliament passed one of the key bills on Iran meeting FATF standards, on ascending to the terrorist financing (TF) convention.

  • On Sunday, October 7th, the bill on Iran acceding to the terrorist financing (TF) convention came under review in the Iranian parliament. Before the it went up for a vote, a meeting was held to discuss the bill in the parliament’s national security and foreign policy committee, which included the intelligence minister and foreign minister, the head of the economy ministry, the head of the central bank, and the legal deputy of the president.
  • Fararu said of the meeting: “The national security and foreign policy committee held the meeting at the request parliamentarian, mostly of the Velayat faction, held a meeting to deliberate the bills on the TF convention and other FATF conventions with the presence of officials from the foreign ministry, intelligence ministry, central bank, and academic experts.”
  • While MPs were speaking in favor or against the bill, a numbers of MPs from the Velayat faction held up placards denouncing the bill, some which read: “With the passing of the CFT, the people’s dinner table will shrink,” “I won’t give way intelligence on the country’s economy during an economic war,” “No to transparency for the enemy,” “I will not vote for a colonialist convention.”
  • During the debate on the parliamentary floor, Speaker of the Parliament Ali Larijani, in response to a critic of the bill, presented a letter from Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei to show that he was not against parliament deciding on the bill.
  • Larijani: “After the Leaders ‘suggestions during a meeting with MPs, the Leader clarified that what he had stated to representatives was about Iran ascending to conventions in general, and not about any specific convention [such as convention on terrorism financing]. And that he was not opposed to the parliament analyzing any bills.”
  • During his remarks, Foreign Minister Javad Zarif stressed that by passing the bill, all of the problems faced by the country won’t be solved, but that not passing it will give a “major excuse to America to increase our problems.”
  • Zarif stated: “The Chinese and Russians have told us, if Iran’s situation with the FATF is not normalized, we cannot work with Iran. The mechanism Europe is starting also cannot be implemented without FATF.”
  • When Speaker of the Parliament Ali Larijani announced that the bill would go for a vote, Mohammad Javad Abtahi, went behind the parliament’s main podium, and in protest ripped up papers he was holding on the parliament’s internal rules and procedures and threw them towards Larijani.
  • The final vote was: 143 in favor and 120 against, out of 271 MPs present.
  • The bill now goes to the Guardian Council for approval.
  • Fararu states: “The bill on Iran acending to the terrorist financing convention is one of four bills to meet the FATF standards, of which Iran has less than 10 days left to implement the FATF guidelines.”

Outspoken reformist Tehran MP Parvaneh Salahshouri defended her support for the bill on Iran acceding to the terrorist financing convention:

  • “Today, Kayhan [prominent conservative newspaper] wrote that we are scared to say we voted [for the bill]. In a message they also said that I went to parliament to vote with a broken neck to prove I’m a traitor! To Kayhan and the delvapasan (the “worried,” a term anti-JCPOA conservatives used to describe themselves in Iran) I am proud to say that I came with a broken neck to vote against the corrupt cycle of money laundering and financing for terrorism in the world.”
  • Salahshouri: “From last night messages cursing me and making death threats have started … but the delvapasan should know that life is in the hands of God not them. However, with these threats it’s possible that a person’s life will be cut short by one of these delvapasans, which itself would be a source of pride, to leave this world in the fight against corruption and money laundering and terrorism.”

On October 10th, Abbas Ali Kadkhodaei, spokesman for Iran’s Guardian Council, announced that the council had resolved the errors it had previously found with two other FATF bills, the bill for implementing the Palermo convention (which deals with organized crime) and the bill reforming Iran’s anti-money laundering law.

  • Kadkhodaei stated: “Given the amendments made in parliament, the errors that the Guardian Council had regarding these two bills have been resolved, and in the view of the council there are no errors.”
  • However, Kadkhodaei stated that the errors found by the Expediency Council, another constitutional body ordained with settling disputes between the Guardian Council and parliament, are yet to be resolved. As such, the two bills are being returned to the parliament to decide on the Expediency Council’s view.”
  • Kadkhodaei added that the bill the parliament had passed a few days prior on another of the four FATF bills, the bill on Iran acceding to the terrorism financing convention, has still not been reviewed by the Guardian Council.
  • The fourth FATF bill, on reforming Iran’s law on confronting terrorism financing, has already been approved by the parliament, Guardian Council, and Expediency Council.

On October 8th, the lawyer for two of the detained environments, Mohammad Hossein Aghasi, said that indictments had been issued against five of eight environmentalists detained last January.

  • The environmentalists all worked for the Persian Heritage Wildlife Foundation (PHWF). The eight environmentalists, together with PHWF’s chairman Kavous Seyed-Emami, were arrested last January. Two weeks after their arrest, Seyed-Emami died under suspicious circumstances in prison, in what authorities deemed was suicide.
  • The other eight environmentalists who belong to PHWF have been held without formal charges since January.
  • The five who have now been issued indictments are Taher Ghadirian, Niloufar Bayani, Houman Jowkar, Sepideh Kashani, and dual Iranian-American citizen Morad Tahbaz.
  • The three who have yet to be issued indictments are Amir Hossein Khaleghi, Abdolreza Koughpayeh, and Sam Rajabi.
  • On October 8th, Mohammad Hossein Aghasi, the lawyer for two of eight environmentalists, met with one of his clients: Sam Rajabi.
  • Aghasi told IRNA: “On Monday, an investigative meeting was held in the interrogation branch of the security prosecutor’s office, in which I participated as my client’s lawyer.”
  • Aghasi stated that this was the only meeting that the interrogator had allowed for Rajabi to have with the lawyer he requested.
  • In the meeting, Aghasi says, a “final defense” was given of Rajabi. Aghasi states: “I believe by the middle of next week in his case the final decision of the prosecutor will be announced and that we can have good news for Sam Rajabi’s family.”
  • Aghasi also stated that an individual in the prosecutor’s office had told some of the families of the detained environmentalists that the accused would be charged with “sowing corruption,” a serious offense in Iran. However, Aghasi rebuked this and said it was a scare tactic to get the families to accede to choosing lawyers from a list of twenty lawyers provided to them.
  • Aghasi states that he was notified by a judiciary official that the charges being pursued against the environmentalists were of the “third grade,” meaning they were at a very low level, whereas being charged with “sowing corruption” is the highest-level offense in Iran.
  • However, Aghasi states that the charge that is to be level is espionage, although now one of that judiciary officials have yet reviewed the indictments.
  • Aghasi: “The interrogator (or investigator) after eight months of investigation ultimately made indictments for five of them to send to the Tehran prosecutor’s office to examine.”
  • Aghasi on the current state of the indictments: “After 25 days, the Tehran prosecutor returned the indictments against the five individuals to the investigators, it is heard that errors were found with the investigation. When these errors are resolved, the indictments cases will be sent to the court for a date to be determined [for a trial].”

The case of the detained environmentalists has been fraught with controversy and sharp disagreement at the high levels of the Iranian government.

  • The allegations of espionage against the environmentalists has been made by the judiciary and the Revolutionary Guards’ intelligence agency, while the government’s official intelligence ministry—under the purview of President Hassan Rouhani—has on numerous occasions dismissed the allegations.
  • Issa Kalantari, the head of Iran’s environmental agency, has said in his defense of the detained environmentalists: “We don’t say that these individuals should be freed or executed, but we want to what is going to happen to them, which we are entitled to as part of our civil rights.”
  • The judiciary claims that the environmentalists gave classified information regarding a sensitive location to foreign intelligence agencies.
  • IRNA, an official state news agency, has stated regarding the length of time it has taken to address the cases of the environmentalists, who were detained in January: “Isn’t the long amount of time it has taken connected to [the judiciary] not having enough evidence for their cases?”
  • IRNA also asks that “why is it when the intelligence ministry is the principal responsible party regarding espionage and collecting evidence in this regard and has dismissed the espionage charges, why are judicial officials saying there is ‘enough documentation to prosecute this case?”
  • On September 18th, the families of the detained environmentalists wrote a letter, which was released publicly, to Ayatollah Khamenei, which requested they be given access to “lawyers [of their choosing] and a fair trial” and stressed their innocence.
  • The letter states that the environmentalists are the “best, most experienced activists and specialists regarding the environment and lovers of Iran’s nature.”
  • The families’ letter adds: “They always and within confines of the law, selflessly and with dedication gave their youth to preserving Iran’s environment.”

On Sunday, October 7th, Mahdi Hajati, a member of Shiraz’s city council was released from custody after paying 200 million tomans in bail. He was arrested on September 27th for publicly defending two detained members of the Bahai faith.

On October 7th, Hossein Salahvarzi, the head of Iran’s Chamber of Commerce, in an interview with Iran newspaper discussed the new payment being set up by European countries to facilitate trade with Iran after the return of U.S. sanctions, which he described as a replacement for SWIFT (the international financial transactional system that Trump administration aims to blacklist Iran from).

  • Salahvarzi: “With this replacement for SWIFT, countries that wish to engage in non-dollar trade can do so with this system. This is a very appropriate action for Iran because now with the return of sanctions, our banking relations won’t be cut.”
  • Salahvarzi: “The European SWIFT is past the stage of talking and negotiation and has made a lot of progress and is close to dealing with technical issues. The Europeans are trying to launch the SWIFT-like system before the reimposition of the second round of U.S. sanctions on November 5th, so countries can use it for banking relations with Iran. They are treating this as a deadline in terms of starting up this SWIFT-like system.
  • Salahvarzi stressed that pasting the FATF standards was critical to this new SWIFT-like system: “The criteria for this SWIFT-like system and all of our banking relations and connections to Europe is that FATF … I ask that members of parliament to implement the FATF standard in the short time that remain and to not allow political constraints to take this opportunity away from Iran.”

On October 19th, Salman Khodadadi, the head of the parliament’s society commission, stated that Iranian vice president and head of Iran’s Planning and Budget Organization Mohammad Bagher Nobakht had come to parliament to discuss the new social welfare systems being devised by the Rouhani administration.

  • Khodadadi: “The head of the planning and budget organization explained the administration’s support packages for low-income people in society … Mr. Nobakht in this meeting stated that debit cards with 100,000 tomans would be provided to 11 million people, which would allow them to buy from chain stores.

On October 8th, Speaker of the Parliament Ali Larijani travelled to Turkey participate in the third annual gathering of Eurasian parliament. During the summit, he met with the head of Russia’s Duma legislative body.

  • In his meeting, Larijani expressed thanks to Russia to initiative the yearly meetings of Eurasian parliaments, stating: “You have nurtured a good initiative … our two parliaments to support ties between our countries and agreements reached between our presidents and governmental bodies of our two countries, have made great efforts to combat terrorism.”
  • Larijani added to the head of Russia’s Duma: “The behavior of the Americans on international issues has gotten more hardline and problematic. We are continuing to endeavor to preserve the JCPOA, and expect the Europeans to meet their commitments [under the JCPOA] soon. At the same time, our economic and trade cooperation after the Volgograd agreement are being implemented in good fashion.”

 

 

About Author

Sina ToossiSina ToossiSina Toossi joined the National Iranian American Council as a Research Associate in July 2018. In this role, Sina conducts research and writing on U.S.-Iran relations, Iranian politics, and Middle East policy issues. Sina has been published in Newsweek, The National Interest, The Huffington Post, The Atlantic Council’s IranSource, ThinkProgress, and The Washington Quarterly.
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