32 stand trial over Iran's biggest bank fraud

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By ALI AKBAR DAREINI, Associated Press

TEHRAN, Iran (AP) — A Tehran court began hearing the trial of 32 defendants Saturday in a $2.6 billion bank fraud described as the biggest financial scam in the country's history, state TV reported.

The city's chief prosecutor Abbas Jafari Dowlatabadi read the text of the indictment against the 32 accused, who wore prison uniform as they attended the Saturday session of the Revolutionary Court charged with hearing cases involving security and organized crimes.

The charges involve the use of forged documents to get credit at one of Iran's top financial institutions to purchase assets including major state-owned companies.

Iran's judiciary has banned media from identifying the defendants by their full names. The primary defendant is referred to in reports by his nickname, "Amir Mansour Aria", and he is described in the Iranian media as the head of a sprawling business empire.

"Owners of the Aria Investment Development Company ... took the first step towards gaining wealth through using incorrect connections with executive and political elements and paying bribes ... Dozens of instances of bribe payments to staff and managers of banks have taken place under various titles," state TV's website quoted the indictment as saying.

The indictment said company managers undermined the country's economic security through engaging in organized fraud and paying large amounts of bribes to illegally accumulate several billion dollars.

"Not only did they prevent the progress and the increase of production and national wealth, they inflicted damage to people's trust and healthy economic activity," state TV's website quoted the indictment as saying.

State TV said the top defendant has been charged with being "corrupt on earth," an Iranian legal term meaning that the defendant is an enemy of God, and which carries the death penalty.

Former head of Iran's Bank Melli Mahmoud Reza Khavari, one of the suspects in the case, has left Iran and now reportedly lives in Canada.

State TV said Judge Nasser Seraj must go through 12,000 pages of documents before he can issue a verdict in the high-profile case.

Aria's business empire reportedly includes more than 35 companies who activities range from mineral water production to a football club and meat imports from Brazil.

The first details of the case became public in September.

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