June 1, 2014

Sharia trial of Iranian billionaire: Case for America and Nigeria

HONESTLY and sincerely I never believed there is endemic corruption in developed countries, including the United States of America, especially in politics and corporate world, until I read thousands of comments after the execution of Iranian billionaire,  Mahafarid Amir Khosravi,  over N2.6bn bank fraud.

The execution came after Iran’s Supreme Court upheld death sentence on the billionaire based on Sharia Law.

The media had reported that Khosravi, the billionaire businessman, was executed at Evin Prison, North of Tehran for being involved in a $2.6 billion state bank scam, the largest fraud case since the country’s 1979 Islamic Revolution.

Also known as Amir Mansour Aria, the billionaire’s fraud entailed using forged documents to get credit at one of Iran’s top financial institutions, Bank Saderat, to purchase assets, including state-owned companies like major steel producer Khuzestan Steel Co. His business empire included more than 40 companies from mineral water production to a football club and meat imports from Brazil.

There are many defendants that were also convicted on the same case. Four received death sentences, two got life sentences and the rest received sentences of up to 25 years in prison.

The trial and execution raised questions about corruption at high levels in various countries. Surprisingly many comments on the story on social media, especially in Yahoo platforms were from Americans, Britons and other Europeans who wished such harsh punishment could be applied in their nations to deter corrupt politicians and businessmen.

The comments show complicity of political and judicial systems for the rot in the financial system where many CEOs became overnight millionaire and billionaire, not by dint of hard work but by acting above the law.

Some of the suggestions that received thousands of likes include a remark by a Briton that the CEOs of leading companies in their country “should be sent to Iran for what they lied about… Frauds like theirs would stop overnight… instead, they get bonuses.”

Another post states that: “This is how we, in the USA, should have handled all of the scams that the banks did that caused our recession. Instead, Congress voted for a bill to bail those criminals out, and ‘We the People’ have to pay that bill (along with our children and grandchildren), all the while the top brass in those companies got bonuses, while a handful of them chose ‘patsie’ to serve a little time in some golf resort community prison (not too bad since they all know that their big money awaits them upon their release for ‘good behaviour’). Yup, if we could do the right thing and hang all of those criminals and the ones who support them (Congress), I bet we could get the USA back on track and out of debt. For once, I’m actually a fan of Iran.”

Another American wrote that: “Too bad we do not do that in the USA. In the USA the crooks are in with the politicians and a lot of the times they are the politicians. I think a death penalty for fraud is a just penalty. I wish they would have executed the Wall Street scammers and the pyramid schemers and the heads of companies that cook the books to defraud their employees of rightful retirement. …(They) should be hung along with any other convicted of fraud. The banking system in the USA defrauds innocent people every day and the government overlooks it. I do not agree with Iran’s politics but I do believe in the justice carried out in this instance.”

Back home in Nigeria. Few years ago, crooked bankers and capital market operators in connivance with some regulatory bodies destroyed thousands of people’s lives when they crashed the capital market. They ruined the entire investments of growing up companies, pensioners, retirees and entrepreneurs. Many of their victims are yet to recover from the shock while thousand others who were reluctant to commit suicide died of heart attacks.

Those that survived the devastating effect of the market have to start their businesses all over again from exorbitant interests on loans from Shylock and corrupt financiers.

The Iranian Sharia-law system that has harsh punishment that could serve as major deterrent to corruption, cannot succeed in many countries because politicians and judges in existing political and legal systems are deeply entrenched in the illicit practices and could therefore not make such system see the light of the day.

If executions should be carried out on the basis of corruption in high places, we may end up not having officials at Federal, state and local government levels. In fact traditional rulers, religious leaders, human rights activists and even some school operators would have gone to heaven not to talk of contractors and politicians.

I believe white collar crimes that ruin others’ lives require, at least, strict prison time and not any monetary fine that the perpetrators can easily offer and return to the old habit. This should also include locals and international collaborators who deliberately trigger conflicts to benefit from the crises.

YUSHAU SHUAIB, a public affairs analyst,wrote from Abuja.