Iran’s moderate foreign minister, Mohammad Javad Zarif, has been rounded on by conservatives in the state for saying “money laundering is a reality.”
Zarif also accused people “with vested interests” of standing in the way of the country falling into line with worldwide standards.
He also said, “Those who embark on thousands of billions of rials of money laundering have surely enough financial might to spend tens and hundreds of billions on propaganda.”
He has spoken out in support of anti-money laundering rules imposed as part of the 2015 nuclear treaty, which limited Iran’s nuclear program, to help the country’s business dealings with the EU who are supportive of efforts to get around US sanctions.
However, according to the Financial Times, Zarif’s critics, who are opposed to the nuclear agreement, see his comments as attempting to make political gains ahead of elections in 2020 and 2021.
One business executive close to Iranian conservatives who hope to make gains in the elections told the FT that Zarif was “once again pushing for a big decision based on the wrong data”.
President Trump pulled out of the agreement, known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, earlier this year and reimposed sanctions on Iran.
However, the UK, France, Germany, Russia
The EU is soon to create a so-called ‘special purpose vehicle’ payments channel aimed at helping Iranian businesses get around the US sanctions.
It has been suggested that Zarif made the comments to encourage the EU to speed up the implementation of the channel and highlight the potential of conservatives to make gains in the elections.
A reformist political analyst told the newspaper, “Mr. Zarif has deliberately created political waves to mobilize support against money laundering.
“This can also help him send a clear message to Europeans that he faces serious opposition from hardliners.”
In response to Zarif comments, one Iranian member of parliament called for his impeachment and said a petition to collect signatures would begin soon.
However, one university professor of international relations specializing in Iranian politics told the FT it would be unlikely that Zarif, who was instrumental in negotiating the nuclear deal, would be removed.
The professor said, “Mr Zarif will stay in his job and top leaders would not let him go because he is irreplaceable”, but added the political battle would likely continue.
Meanwhile, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said Iran’s “cabinet is in disarray and the Iranian people are raising their voices even louder against a corrupt and hypocritical regime”, as the US is set to impose even further sanctions.
But the Iranian Foreign Ministry praised European efforts to maintain business links with Tehran despite the sanctions.
Iranian deputy foreign minister Abbas Araqchi tweeted, "We had constructive meetings with British and French officials and nuclear negotiators in Tehran yesterday and today", referring to British Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt's visit to Tehran.