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From black market trading in the bazaar, Babak Zanjani became Iran’s top sanctions buster. Now he faces execution for corruption


FOR THE PAST two years, while he was languishing in Tehran’s Evin Prison, the world seemed to forget Iranian billionaire Babak Zanjani. But he returned to the headlines on March 6, when an Iranian court sentenced him to death.

Zanjani’s story is that of a man who came from nowhere and amassed mind-boggling wealth providing illicit services to Iran’s government, in the biggest publicly known money-laundering scheme in the country’s memory. His demise was quick and brutal.

Zanjani had a solution to one of Iran’s biggest problems. For years, he helped the government evade international sanctions against its nuclear program and sell oil on the global market. When the West imposed sanctions on him, his venture ended abruptly. After a change in government, he was arrested and accused of withholding $2.7 billion in state money. In early March, he got the death sentence for “corruption on earth,” a catchall phrase for the most serious crimes against the state. Executions are usually conducted by hanging in Iran.

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