The Rough Road to Stockholm: Iranian tycoon Shahram Jazayeri is detained once again
While he might think of himself as an entrepreneur deserving a Nobel in economy, for some others, what the 43-year old Shahram Jazayeri deserves is only another term in prison.
Jazayeri turned into a household name in 2002, when he was labeled as an agent corrupteur by the judiciary for undermining the natural flow of the Iranian economy. One decade earlier, a similar accusation had inflicted death upon another businessman, Fazel Khodadad, who was charged with multi-billion-dollar embezzlement.
Jazayeri was a youngster when he was arraigned on counts of economic corruption: twenty-nine years old, a very early age to become rich in Iran, where the wealthy are viewed with a cynical eye and suspicious of having strong ties with powerful circles inside the establishment.
In the heat of the strife between the Reformists and Principlists, Jazayeri's case was inevitably politicized. Reformists suffered a heavy trust deficit consequently, as Jazayeri's donations to many well-known members of the Reformist parliament were revealed.
Former speaker Mehdi Karroubi shouldered the brunt of accusations, and not only in 2002. Seven years later, Karroubi a presidential hopeful, was running against the sitting president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad who had no desire to leave the office, hence the latter's unabashed attacks on Karroubi during their notorious 2009 televised debate. Ahmadinejad brought up Jazayeri's name 8 times during his debate with Mehdi Karroubi, pressing the less articulate cleric to clarify the case of the 300 million tomans he had received from the young tycoon. The unsolicited donation, regardless of its exact amount, was later dwarfed, however, compared to the gargantuan scale of corruption in Ahmadinejad's second term of presidency.
A diverse range of charges were set up against Shahram Jazayeri by the court, from forgery to bribery, collusion in his contracts with governmental institutions, and inveiglement of banking officials. He was initially sentenced to 27 years in prison, and ordered to return unlawfully obtained revenues. The verdict shrank to 13 years by the appeal court.
Jazayeri grabbed attention in early 2007 again, when news leaked that he had managed to escape abroad while on a parole to disclose his assets to the court. The bruise on Jazayeri's left cheek upon his re-capture hinted how unhappy the Iranian law enforcement forces were with his hide-and-seek game that had lasted for nearly four weeks, partly in Dubai and Oman. Several officials paid the price for his escape, including head of the Evin Prison, and head of the Special Court for Financial Crimes.
Jazayeri was released on Friday 3rd of October 2014 after spending 13 years behind the bars. "If I could return back and if I had the option to choose between death and a 13-year verdict, I would have chosen death" he said.
He regained public attention in December 2015, following his controversial interview with famous anchor Reza Rashidpour in his popular talk show Did Dar Shab. Donning his trademark smirk, the "cheeky boy", a label Jazayeri proudly uses to describe himself, seemed to gleefully enjoy trading barbs with Rashidpour. Scoffing at the interviewer for lack of expertise in economy, Jazayeri claimed that his fiscal record was untainted, and that he had fallen victim to media fuss.
Nonetheless, he seemed to have shaped a symbiotic relationship with the media, particularly the Reformist newspapers, after release. They gave Jazayeri a voice he much needed to vindicate himself and to rebrand his public image as an entrepreneur. In return, Jazayeri fed the media with lurid headlines which grew more and more outlandish with every interview. The examples are telling:
"I'm ready to hold a debate with five economic members of the administration." (Khabar Online, December 13, 2015)
"I'm ready to have a debate with Bill Gates." (Did Dar Shab; December 17, 2015)
"If [Ahmadinejad] can pay 70$ cash handouts [to citizens], then I can pay 700 dollars." (Tamashagaran Weekly; April 16, 2016)
"They [who?] are asking me to author twenty papers. If I do that, I can be a Nobel Prize nominee." (Arman Daily; July 23, 2016)
On August 6, Jazayeri was detained in Mashhad, northeastern Iran, on charges of disturbing public peace. He had travelled to Iran's second largest city to attend a seminar on challenges facing Padideh Shandiz, Mashhad-based joint stock company whose murky business conduct has led to both judicial investigation and widespread protest by its shareholders. "I make a point of honor that in less than one year, I will turn Padideh into the most profitable investment in the world" he had promised in his now defunct Instagram account. But he was detained before taking any further step. He may be dreaming of Stockholm and the Nobel Prize, but for Jazayeri, Mashhad seems an equally uphill battle at the moment.
By: Ali Attaran