Three brothers found guilty of corruption are living comfortably in the United States with their families instead of serving prison sentences in Iran, an IranWire source has revealed.
The Rouzchang brothers, who were sentenced to a total of 63 years in prison, will be familiar to anyone who has kept up with news of shady deals, corruption and speculation about what happened during the foreign currency crash of 2011 and 2012.
Despite the high profile of the three brothers — the men behind one of Iran’s best-known brands, the popular drink Istak — Iranian officials have once again excelled themselves in their cover-up tactics and talents of obfuscation, and managed to keep the story out of the public domain.
So how did the three Rouzchang brothers, found guilty of high-level corruption in Iran, escape long prison sentences and come to to settle in the United States, free to live their lives?
Before they were known as criminals, Yadollah, Loghman and Anvar Rouzchang were known for running the company that supplied the popurlar non-alcoholic beer Istak.
Although are currently enjoying freedom in the States, they did serve time in prison until 2020. But their stint in prison was far shorter than the 63 years they were expected collectively to serve.
Prior to their recent move abroad, much was said about them in the news, and by Iranian officials.
On Ocotber 23, 2016, Gholam Hossein Mohseni Ejei, spokesperson for the judiciary and the current chief justice, announced that Yadollah Rouzchang had been sentenced to 20 years in prison and fined 181 billion tomans for corruption and putting Iran’s financial system and economy at risk. “This sentence has been upheld by the Supreme Court,” Mohseni Ejei said during his press conference. He then went on to announce similar sentences for Loghman Rouzchang — 20 years in prison and 200 million tomans on the same charges — and Anvar Rouzchang, who he said would serve 23 years behind bars, adding that three years of his sentence had been upheld and the remaining 20 would be decided upon appeal.
Prior to this, Tasnim News Agency reported on the Rouzchang affair, in July 2016: "In the winter of 2011, following the foreign currency crisis, intelligence and security forces made arrests and eventually filed a case against eight people accused of disrupting the foreign exchange market. An indictment was issued. The trial of these defendants, three of whom were the Rouzchang brothers, coincided with the trial of Babak Zanjani [a billionaire businessman who helped Iranian officials bypass sanctions but who then fell foul of the regime and currently faces the death penalty] and concluded after 15 hearings. Anvar Rouzchang and Yadollah Rouzchang, who, unlike Loghman Rouzchang, were in prison, were sentenced to 20 and 23 years in prison, respectively, by a court order by Judge Salavati. Eventually, a sentence against the third Rouzchang brother [Loghman Rouzchang] was announced: 20 years’ imprisonment. The court then canceled his bail and he, like Anvar and Yadollah, went to prison.” As with Mohseni Ejei’s press briefing, the Tasnim report said, the brothers had been handed down sentences of 63 years in prison in total.
Tasnim News Agency later provided further details of the cases on February 17, 2018: "Some media outlets have named the Rouzchang brothers as the criminals behind the foreign currency crash of 2011 and 2012, saying they acquired and distributed $6 billion in foreign exchange from the Central Bank through their offices in Dubai and Tehran. Still others have reported that the brothers provided their clients with the currency but sold it at a higher price than what they paid the bank."
Currency Smuggled Into Prison
Former prosecutor of Tehran Jafari Dolatabadi had also commented on the brothers, the Istak empire, and the high levels of corruption in which they had been involved. He revealed that the company had been among those singled out to receive subsidized foreign currency for importing necessary goods.
"The Rouzchang brothers infiltrated the foreign exchange market [between 2013 and 2017] and were sentenced to prison,” Dolatabadi said on December 19, 2018. “They owe 180 billion tomans.”
This account was confirmed by Farda News."The list [of companies receiving subsidized currency] shows that Yadollah Rouzchang, a man behind one of Iran’s most well-known brands, received 140,000 euros," it reported on October 1, 2018. “ The central bank must explain how a man sentenced to 20 years in prison could receive tens of thousands of euros in government money. Has he been pardoned? "How has he been able to do such a thing from inside the prison ?!" There was no amnesty for the Rouschang brothers, and all three brothers were in Evin Prison until 2020.
Entrepreneurs or Criminals?
Maziar Tataei, the Rouzchang brothers' lawyer, provided another version of events. He described the Rouzchang brothers as entrepreneurs valued by the regime.
"It is rumored that Vahid Mazloumin himself was a 'Rouzchang gang' agent dealing in the foreign exchange market of the early 1990s,” the Mardamsalari website reported on August 19, 2019. Mazloumin, known as the "KIng of Coins," was a businessman who faced charges of corruption and "sabotaging Iran's economic, monetary and currency system.” He and one of his associates were executed in 2018.
“Yadollah Rouzchang, in addition to being the founder of the famous Istak brand, is known for some of the currency scandals that took place between 2010 and 2013. At the same time, Yadollah Rouzchang worked with the Central Bank on the foreign exchange market. The story goes that the Central Bank entrusted Yadollah Rouzchang with the job of distributing a total of $6 billion within the market. But Rouzchang did not sell everything, keeping some of it back to sell at a free market price and making a huge profit.”
In an interview in 2017, Maziar Tataei, Yadollah Rouzchang's lawyer, said his client “has been praised as a top entrepreneur on several occasions” by the regime, adding that the Central Bank had worked with him because he had an exchange office in Dubai. Even during the financial exchange crisis, he said, Rouzchang was “praised by Mr. Bahmani,” who was Governor of the Central Bank at that time.
Central Bank officials at the time believed that the Dubai market had a direct and undeniable effect on the foreign exchange market in Iran, and so for this reason they approached Yadollah Rouzchang , asking him to control the exchange rate by selling currencies held by the Central Bank to that market.
But then Rouzchang was arrested in August 2012 and handed down a prison sentence and a fine. And so a "trusted" broker was exposed as less than reputable — though Rouzchang was certainly not the first corrupt broker to have dealings with the Central Bank.
The Revolutionary Guards Bribery “Gang”
There was yet another angle to the Rouzchang brothers scandal. On April 22, 2018, Ghanoun newspaper published a shocking article that claimed “a gang” made up of retired Revolutionary Guards commanders was extorting money from people facing corruption charges, including the Rouzchang brothers, threatening them if they did not pay up they would be sentenced to death. The report claimed the gang was led by two men named Hossein Karami and Hashem Mahdavi Pilehroud.
"Loghman Rouzchang said two individuals, in collusion with the Dubai Zarrin exchange office, had prepared a trumped-up case against him and his brothers regarding the currency market scandal and submitted it to the judiciary,” the Ghanoun article said.
According to the article, Loghman Rouzchang said the gang told one of his brothers that if he did not pay them 30 billion tomans, they would use the case they had prepared against him to ensure he faced the death penalty. The gang was linked to Iran’s judiciary, the report said. "Loghman Rouzchang said the gang in the judiciary, with the help of the Zarrin exchange office in Dubai, submitted false reports to the Central Bank in order to extort money from Yadollah Rouzchang, and asked him to hand over the distribution and sales rights of the Istak drinks company in several cities to this group."
Not the Usual Treatment for Prisoners
According to the source that contacted IranWire, the brothers were detained in Evin Prison until 2020, after which they were transferred to Greater Tehran Prison. But then, the situation changed: the flurry of information about the brothers stopped, and nothing was heard about them. Once public figures talked about them regularly, but suddenly, they were silent.
After the outbreak of the coronavirus pandemic, some prisoners were granted leave, the Rouzchang brothers among them. But whereas most prisoners were tightly monitored and confined to their homes, the brothers and their families were somehow able to travel thousands of miles to the United States. They reportedly settled in the US within a month of their release. Under Iranian law, no matter what crime a person has committed, prisoners granted temporary release are banned from traveling outside the country. How the Rouzchang brothers were able to leave Iran and travel to the United States is a burning question. But more important than this, perhaps, is the issue of concealment. A year on, Iranian authorities continue to keep this information out of the public domain. It’s the latest key example of the how the regime uses silence to wield and retain power.