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Iran billionaire Babak Zanjani sentenced to death

Billionaire Iranian businessman Babak Zanjani has been sentenced to death for corruption, justice officials say.
He was arrested in December 2013 after accusations that he withheld billions in oil revenue channelled through his companies. He denies the allegations.
Zanjani, 42, was convicted of fraud and economic crimes, a judiciary spokesperson said at a press briefing.
One of Iran's richest men, Zanjani was blacklisted by the US and EU for helping Iran evade oil sanctions.
Two others were sentenced to death along with him and all were ordered to repay embezzled funds. The ruling can be appealed.

Zohreh Rezalee, a lawyer for Zanjani, told the BBC the verdict was politically motivated and an appeal would be lodged.
"We believe that Babak Zanjani in this case is just a debtor," the lawyer said.

Who is Babak Zanjani?

  • Played a key role in helping Iran get around sanctions to sell oil abroad during the presidency of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad
  • From Dubai, he controlled a global network of more than 60 companies involved in everything from cosmetics to air travel and banking
  • Accused of impropriety after Hassan Rouhani, a moderate who pledged to tackle high-level corruption, became president in 2013
  • Born in Tehran, attended a Turkish university and became a driver for Iran's central bank head in 1999, when he started out in currency exchange
  • Said he was worth $13.5bn but was reported to have significant debts
Downfall of a billionaire

Zanjani had acknowledged using a web of companies in the United Arab Emirates, Turkey, and Malaysia to sell millions of barrels of Iranian oil on behalf of the government since 2010.
Before his arrest, Zanjani had argued that international sanctions were preventing him from handing over $1.2bn still owed to the government.
But at his recent trial, prosecutors said he still owed the government more than $2.7bn in oil revenue.
He was taken into custody a day after President Hassan Rouhani ordered his government to fight "financial corruption", particularly "privileged figures" who had "taken advantage of economic sanctions" under the previous government.

'Corrupt parasites'

The trial, unusually, was held in public, AFP news agency reports.
In a 2013 interview with the BBC, Zanjani played down his political connections in Iran, saying: "I don't do anything political, I just do business."

Zanjani has said he is worth about some $13.5bn.
For years things worked well for the businessman who appeared in photos with some high-ranking officials and was not shy of showing off his wealth, such as private jets and luxury cars, Amir Azimi of BBC Persian reports.
But when the local media started to report on his wealth, he came under the spotlight and under suspicion.
The death sentence could have wider implications for Iran's economy, where many were involved in finding ways to avoid the sanctions, our analyst adds.
International sanctions on Iran were lifted in January after a watchdog confirmed it had complied with a deal designed to prevent it developing nuclear weapons.
Oil minister Bijan Zanganeh has urged foreign investors to avoid middlemen, whom he describes as "corrupt parasites".
Zanjani was convicted of "corruption on earth", the most serious offence in Iran's criminal code.
Other wealthy individuals have been executed after being found guilty of similar charges.

US election 2016: Super Tuesday to test candidates

Candidates bidding for their party's nomination in the US presidential election face their biggest test yet in the "Super Tuesday" primary polls.
Eleven states cast votes for candidates from either the Republican or Democratic parties or both in a contest seen as make-or-break for the hopefuls.
Contests stretch from Vermont in the east to Texas and Georgia in the south.
Donald Trump leads the Republican field and Hillary Clinton is ahead in the Democratic race.
There have been earlier votes in four states.
The first Super Tuesday polls opened in Virginia at 06:00 local time (11:00 GMT).
  • Follow the latest live updates here
  • US expats in UK voting on Super Tuesday
  • Jon Sopel: Headwinds could ruffle more than Trump's hair
  • Trump rally police 'ejected' black students
Senator Ted Cruz cannot afford to lose to Mr Trump in Texas, Mr Cruz's home state, while a reverse for Mr Trump in Massachusetts, with its moderate voters, could break the property tycoon's nationwide momentum.
Mrs Clinton is hoping to build on her weekend victory in South Carolina, where she polled heavily among African-Americans, to restore her political fortunes after a bruising defeat in New Hampshire to Bernie Sanders, her self-styled democratic socialist rival.
On 8 November, America is due to elect a successor to Barack Obama, a Democratic president standing down after two terms in office which have seen the Republicans take control of both houses of Congress.

What's so super about Super Tuesday?
In depth: Primary calendar
Why we should have seen Trump coming

Opinion polls give Mr Trump a lead in almost all of the 11 states holding Republican contests on Tuesday: Alabama, Arkansas, Georgia, Massachusetts, Oklahoma, Tennessee, Texas, Vermont, Virginia, Alaska and Minnesota.
The colourful campaign of the billionaire, who won three of the four early voting states, has divided Republicans.
On the eve of the polls, Nebraska Senator Ben Sasse became the highest-ranked elected party member to come out and say he would not back him for president.
He said he was "frustrated and saddened" and would look for a third option if Mr Trump won the Republican nomination.
Marco Rubio, the third-placed Republican contender after Mr Trump and Mr Cruz, is hoping to stay competitive, gambling on a win in his home state of Florida on 15 March.
Mr Trump's commitment to several controversial immigration pledges, including the wholesale deportation of illegal immigrants and construction of a wall along the US-Mexico border, was called into question on Monday after reports describing an off-the-record conversation with the New York Times editorial board.
Mr Cruz, Mr Rubio and former Republican candidate Mitt Romney have called on Mr Trump to authorise the release of the transcript, in which Mr Trump reportedly says his hardline immigration policies would be flexible if he were elected.
Mr Cruz said: "Apparently there is a secret tape that the New York Times editorial board has of Donald Trump saying that he doesn't believe what he's saying on immigration... I call on Donald: ask the New York Times to release the tape and do so today before the Super Tuesday primary."
Andrew Rosenthal, the editor of the Times editorial page, told Buzzfeed News he would not comment on an off-the-record conversation without Mr Trump's permission.
"If [Trump] wants to call up and ask us to release this transcript, he's free to do that and then we can decide what we would do," Mr Rosenthal said.
Mr Trump has faced heavy criticism ahead of the Super Tuesday primaries over his failure to disavow David Duke, a leader of the white supremacist Ku Klux Klan, who has endorsed the Republican candidate.
Protesters, including some from the Black Lives Matter movement, repeatedly disrupted a Trump rally in Radford, Virginia, on Monday after his refusal to condemn Mr Duke.
On Tuesday, Mr Trump said he had on several occasions in the past disavowed Mr Duke.
Mr Trump told ABC: "There's nobody who's done so much for equality as I have."

Democratic race

Democrats are voting in Alabama, Arkansas, Georgia, Massachusetts, Oklahoma, Tennessee, Texas, Vermont, Virginia and Minnesota, as well as in the US territory of American Samoa.
Democrats abroad will also submit their votes. There is also a caucus in Colorado, but the vote then goes to a state convention.
Mrs Clinton is eyeing black voters in places like Alabama, Georgia and Virginia after taking eight out of 10 black votes in South Carolina.
Bernie Sanders voted early in his home state of Vermont.
He told reporters that if turnout was high "we are going to do well. If not, we're probably going to be struggling".
But he pledged: "This is a campaign that is going to the Philadelphia convention in July."
Follow the primaries race with the delegate tracker, provided by the Associated Press (AP)

 
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