On March 12, Tehran prosecutor Abbas Jafari Dowlatabadi announced that “an agent of England’s intelligence service” with dual British-Iranian citizenship had been sentenced to jail. He was speaking at the 30th gathering of the Tehran Deputy Prosecutors Council. “This person is also under investigation in a separate case related to a private bank,” Dowlatabadi added. According to the semi-official Fars News agency, the unnamed person had been jailed for six years.
Kayhan-London understands that the individual in question is Shahabeddin Manzouri-Kermani, better known as Shahab Kermani. He is a board member of the privately owned Saman Bank and the Chairman of the Management Board of DF Deutsche Forfait AG, a trade finance company which was founded in Germany, in 2000. The company has close ties with Saman Bank.
In an announcement posted on its website on January 17, 2017, the company said: “The chairman of the management board of DF Deutsche Forfait AG, Dr. Shahab Manzouri, has today informed the supervisory board that due to an illness he would not be able to perform his duties as management board member for approximately three months. He has therefore asked for a leave of absence for this period. The supervisory board has today accepted this request and granted Dr. Manzouri a leave of absence until the end of April 2017 and suspended.”
The easing of sanctions, following the JCPOA agreement, allowed many financial institutions including Saman Bank and the German DF Deutsche Forfait AG to engage in international business with greater freedom. In February 2014, the U.S. Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC), placed DF Deutsche Forfait AG on its sanction (SDN) list for alleged violation of Iran sanctions. But OFAC removed the German company from its SDN list in October 2014. “OFAC sanctions list did not involve payment of any penalty. OFAC listing had resulted in constraints on operational capabilities, leading to losses of about 9.0 million euros in first nine months of 2014,” Reuters reported.
On January 17, 2017, the EU announced a guideline for easing sanctions on Iran. On September 27, 2017, Austria’s Oberbank signed a deal worth one billion euros with 14 Iranian banks including Saman Bank. The other 13 were: Karafarin Bank; Bank Pasargad; Bank Refah Kargaran; Bank Mellat; Tejarat Bank; Bank Melli Iran; Bank of Industry and Mine; EN Bank; Bank Sepah; Export Development Bank of Iran; Middle East Bank; Bank Keshavarzi (Agro Bank); and Bank Parsian. It was hailed as the first major business deal after the JCPOA agreement.
The second largest deal worth 500 million euros was signed on the same day between the Danish lender Danske Bank and 10 Iranian banks; Bank Keshavarzi, Bank Mellat, Bank Pasargad, Bank Sepah, Bank Parsian, Bank Saman, Tejarat Bank, Bank Melli Iran, Bank of Industry and Mine, and EN Bank. Both deals were signed on the same day at the Vienna residence of Mr. Ebadollah Molaei, Iran’s Ambassador to Austria.
Mr. Manzouri is not the first executive of Saman Bank to be accused of spying. Abdolrasoul Dorri-Esfahani, a Canadian-Iranian, an adviser to the Central Bank of the Islamic Republic of Iran and a member of the Iran nuclear-negotiating team involved in the JCPOA (Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action) agreement was arrested in August 2016 on a plane heading to Turkey. Mr. Dorri-Esfahani was sentenced to eight years in jail but was released after posting bail.
Both Dorri-Esfahani and the government of President Hassan Rouhani have denied all allegations. Dorri-Esfahani was again arrested in 2017 and jailed for five years. “ There is ample evidence to support the espionage charges against Dorri-Esfahani,” Gholam-Hossein Mohsen Ejei [Iran’s first vice chief justice] said in 2017.
Saman Bank was rumoured to have been helping Iran to circumvent economic sanctions. The bank reportedly used shell companies to move funds for the Iranian regime in various countries including Germany.
In February 2016, the Central Bank of the Islamic Republic of Iran announced that many Iranian banks were reconnected to Swift [Society for Worldwide Interbank Financial Telecommunication.] These included private Saman Bank, Pasargad Bank and Parsian Bank as well as government-owned Bank Mellat, Bank Sepah, Bank Melli and Bank Tejarat. “Those banks that are delisted by the implementing regulation will now automatically be able to reconnect to Swift, following the completion of our normal connection process,” Swift said.
A Google search of “Shahabeddin Manzouri-Kermani” brings up various websites that report on Saman Bank and financial dealings of dual nationals. Many of the online commentaries call for Manzouri-Kermani’s arrest. On October 2, 2016, his details including his home address were posted in English in the commentary box of a website.
Manzouri-Kermani was the managing director of a currency exchange company in London until 2011. The company’s day-to-day operation is run by Mr. Ali Akbar Hassas, a 62-year British-Iranian. Mr. Majid Kouchaki has been the exchange’s managing director since 2012.
Manzouri-Kermani’s name has also appeared alongside another man by the name of Valiollah Zarabiyeh [the chairman of the board of directors of Saman Bank] in may of the online comments including an opinion piece by S. Eqbal entitled “The reward of the board of directors and legalizing corruption” published on Radio Zamaneh’s website.
Most of the comments posted on Javan Online, a news website closely linked to the IRGC (Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps), accuse Manzouri-Kermani of being a spy.
A comment posted on Ghasam, another online news website affiliated with the IRGC reads: “ Mr. Manzouri-Kermani, a member of the board of directors of Saman Bank, is a British-Iranian dual national. He regularly travels to England. He was also instrumental in the appointment of Dorri-Esfahani to the Saman Bank’s board of directors. He could also be one of Dorri-Esfahani’s accomplices. There is ample evidence to support this claim. For instance, Mr. Manzouri fears that Saman’s board of directors might discover his true identity. His company controls the security of the bank. It has installed closed-circuit TVs and hired martial art experts as security guards (as was reported in the media) to intimidate workers and staff. Mr. Valiollah Zarabiyeh has given Mr. Manzouri free rein to run the bank anyway he sees fit. For instance, he has complete control over bank’s contracts with Negah Saz Electronics which is owned by him. The company sells goods with English labels that are actually made in China.”
Most if not all the online stories on “nuclear espionage” and Saman Bank mention Manzouri-Kermani’s name.