With the trial and sentencing of 39 defendants, the largest embezzlement scandal in the Islamic Republic’s history known as the “Big Graft” has entered a new phase. Iranian authorities are now pursuing Mahmoud-Reza Khavari, the former Bank Melli chief believed to be a ringleader in the scandal now residing in Canada.
Of the 39 accused, four have been sentenced to death, two to life in prison, and the rest have received prison sentences of 25 years or less in addition to fines. Bringing Khavari to justice however may be more complicated. Though the Iranian government has stated that it is seeking to extradite him to Iran through the assistance of the International Police (Interpol), a cursory look at Interpol’s website reveals there is no international warrant for his arrest. In fact, no individuals being sought out by the Islamic Republic can be found there. However, a number of current and former senior Iranian officials can be found as “wanted” on the Interpol website, including ex-intelligence minister Ali Fallahian who stands accused by the Argentine government of involvement in the 1994 bombing of a Jewish center in Buenos Aires.
Khavari’s escape from Iran and the regime’s attempt to extradite him has become a point of great controversy in Iran. Mahafarid Amir-Khosravi, one of the majour defendants of the Big Graft case, accused certain senior regime officials of aiding Khavari’s escape and threatened to reveal their names if they did not voluntarily come forward. In an interview with the Islamic Consultative Assembly News Agency on Tuesday 07 August 2012 Mohammad-Saleh Jokar, a member of the Iranian parliament’s national security and foreign policy committee, asserted that Canadian officials were refusing to return Khavari to Iran. He accused the Canadian government of mimicking what he called the United States’ anti-Iran foreign policy but maintained that Khavari’s guilt was so clear that the Islamic Republic expects the Canadians to cooperate in this matter. He called on the Iranian foreign ministry to make sure that “criminals” like Khavari do not feel safe anywhere in the world:
“He (Khavari) knows hidden aspects of the financial fraud case and has a lot of information in this regard. Not prosecuting this individual has enormous consequences for the people and we must return him to the country by any means possible.”
Editor’s note: Khavari is believed to be living in Canada where he is a dual citizen and owns a three-million dollar home in an exclusive neighbourhood of Toronto, Ontario. It is curious to note that despite the ruling Conservative Party of Canada’s tough rhetoric on the Islamic Republic, many believe senior Iranian government officials reside with near impunity in Canada and freely travel back and forth to Iran. The extreme case of Khavari only highlights this contradiction in the Conservative government’s “tough on Iran” approach which appears to be hurting ordinary Iranians and Iranian-Canadians (as illustrated by Toronto Dominion’s actions pursuant to Canadian sanctions) while coddling senior regime officials and alleged criminals like Khavari. This has unfortunately tarnished the image of the Canadian government in the eyes of many in the large Iranian-Canadian community and simultaneously made its gesturing against the Islamic Republic appear somewhat hollow.
Canada does not have an extradition treaty with Iran and is prohibited from sending an individual back to their country of origin if they could receive the death penalty or be tortured. The Canadian government is looking to see if Khavari may have misrepresented himself while becoming a Canadian citizen, a process that could lead him to be stripped of his citizenship.