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The Latest from Iran (11 October): The Bank Fraud Expands

See also Iran Document: The Formal Complaint over "Plot to Kill Saudi Ambassador to US"Iran Document: US Account of the "Plot to Murder the Saudi Ambassador to Washington"
Iran 1st-Hand: The Flogging of Peyman Aref

1941 GMT: The Terrorist Plot. We have just posted the US Department of Justice press release summarising the alleged plot, backed by elements of the Revolutionary Guards, to kill the Saudi Ambassador to Washington.

We have also posted a copy of the original complaint filed in the Court of the Southern District of New York.

Iran's State news agency IRNA, has called the accusations "America's new propaganda scenario" against Tehran.

1912 GMT: CNN clarifies how the US is going to respond to this terrorist plot, on which the US President Barack Obama was briefed in June:

Attorney General Eric Holder, when asked how Iran would be held "accountable" in an alleged plot to assassinate the Saudi ambassador to the United States, said he expected action from the White House, the State Department and Treasury within the next few hours.

A US official expanded more about how the U.S. might hold Iran accountable. The official told CNN's Elise Labott that there are likely to be more sanctions and the U.S. will be taking this up with to the United Nations Security Council and other members of the international community.

1859 GMT: The Washington Post adds an important detail to the last update about the alleged Iran-backed terrorist plot:

Holder said the U.S. government would be taking unspecified action against the Iranian government as early as Tuesday afternoon. Asked whether the plot was blessed by the top echelons of the Iranian government, Holder said the Justice Department was not making that accusation.

1846 GMT: US Attorney General Eric Holder has implicated the Iranian Quds Force of the Revolutionary Guards in the plot to kill the Saudi Ambassador to the US:

Two people, including a member of Iran’s special operations unit known as the Quds Force, were charged in New York federal court. Holder said the bomb plot was a flagrant violation of U.S. and international law.

“We will not let other countries use our soil as their battleground,” Preet Bharara, the U.S. attorney in Manhattan, said at a press conference in Washington with Holder and FBI Director Robert Mueller.

1830 GMT: Terrorism Alert. According to American ABC Newd, the FBI and the Drug Enforcement Agnecy have announced that they have disrupted a major terrorist attack that was plotted by the Iranian government:

FBI and DEA agents have disrupted a plot to commit a "significant terrorist act in the United States" tied to Iran, federal officials told ABC News today.

The officials said the plot included the assassination of the Saudi Arabian ambassador to the United States, Adel Al-Jubeir, with a bomb and subsequent bomb attacks on the Saudi and Israeli embassies in Washington, D.C.

Bombings of the Saudi and Israeli embassies in Buenos Aires, Argentina, were also discussed, according to the U.S. officials.

According to the report, which we will cover in depth as we get more information, an Iranian national was working in conjunction with the Mexican drug cartel in order to assassinate the Saudi Ambassador. According to the report, the attack was being orchestrated by "high-ranking members of the Iranian government" as well as members of the Iranian military.

[Manssor] Arbabsiar, (the alleged Iranian agent) a naturalized U.S. citizen, expressed "utter disregard for collateral damage" in the planned bomb attacks in Washington, according to officials.

1405 GMT: The Detained Filmmakers. Naser Saffarian and Mohsen Shahnazdar, two of the six filmmakers detained last month on the pretext that they worked for BBC Persian, have been released from prison.

1305 GMT: Diplomatic Front. Iran's Ambassador to Lebanon, Ghadanfar Roken Abadi, said on Tuesday that the situation in Syria is improving: “The Syrian people will hopefully get what they want from the regime led by Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.

Abadi, meeting Lebanon's Foreign Minister Adnan Mansour, said Tehran “to reinforce defense ties with the Lebanese Republic and provide arms to the Lebanese army.”

1259 GMT: Political Prisoner Watch. Journalist Hamid Moazeni has been released on bail.

Moazeni worked for Mehdi Karoubi’s 2009 Presidential campaign and has edited weekly publications including Birami, Avab Baharestan, Daryay-e Jonoub, and Salam Jonoub.

1255 GMT: Execution and Religion Watch. Iran's Supreme Court has overturned the death sentence of Christian pastor Yousef Nadarkhani's death sentence (see 0605 GMT) on a technicality, sending the case back to a lower court.

1247 GMT: Ahmadinejad Watch. The President has told Iranian commanders that Western countries are seeking to obstruct the victory of revolutions in nations such as Egypt,.fearing that governments opposing the US and Israel will rise to power.

There is no indication that Ahmadinejad mentioned Syria in his speech.

1215 GMT: In the Skies. Iranian officials have criticised the International Air Transport Association for suspending ticket payment services for the Islamic Republic.

Farhad Parvaresh, the chairman of the Civil Aviation Organization, said on Monday that the decision is a violation of international law and the IATA articles of association. He said Iran Air has officially asked the IATA to revoke the decision.

Chris Goater, the spokesman of the Geneva-based IATA, said that the decision was made in accordance with the economic and political sanctions imposed on Iran by the US.

1215 GMT: Political Prisoner Watch. Two members of Parliament's National Security Commission made unannounced visits to Evin Prison and spoken with detainees about conditions.

One of the MPs, Parvez Sorouri, said all is well in Evin but added that Rajai Shahr Prison is overcrowded.

1135 GMT: Political Prisoner Watch. Fifteen activists in East Azerbaijan Province have been sentenced to four months in prison plus a 20-month suspended jail term.

The activists were arrested at a dinner in Tabriz on 24 August and charged with “assembly with the intention to commit a crime against national security". The detainees were discussing protests of the drying-up of Lake Oroumiyeh, threatened by drought, dams, development, and poor irrigation.

The activists were reportedly tried behind closed doors, and the Association for the Defence of Azerbaijani Political Prisoners claims, "Some of the detainees were subjected to torture and basically were denied the right to see their family or their defence attorney.”

1057 GMT: Bank Fraud Watch. Ayande continues with its claims of Government involvement in the $2.6 billon bank fraud, asserting that the Ministry of Industry asked the Central Bank to raise the credit limit to $1 billion for the Aria Group.

The Aria Group is accused of using lines of credit to purchase 52 companies, including 38 steel firms, with embezzled funds. Ayande claims that Aria's company Tejarat Gostaran Mansour could not furnish security for credit.

1047 GMT: Economy Watch. Khabar Online reports that prices for imported meat have risen 44% since March, with the imports falling 16%.

1045 GMT: Reformist Watch. Former President Mohammad Khatami, meeting released political prisoners, has restated the conditions of freeing of all political detainees, adherence to the Constitution, and a free electoral process as "essential to guarantee national interests, security, and progress".

1040 GMT: The House Arrests. The Islamic Iran Participation Front has issued a statement that the release of political prisoners and of opposition figures Mir Hossein Mousavi and Mehdi Karroubi, under strict house arrest since February, is the first step to overcome Iran's crisis.

1030 GMT: Scholar Watch. Almost 150 academics have posted an open statement of condolence for the death of the Iranian-American sociologist Dr. Mehrdad Mashayekhi, who passed away last Wednesday in Virginia: "The Iranian intellectual community has lost one of its most passionate and articulate voices for social justice and democratic change. His legacy of political activism and progressive analysis of Iranian politics and society is cherished by his many students, fellow activists, and colleagues inside and outside Iran."

0910 GMT: Elections Watch. Iranian authorities have set the timetable for next March's Parliamentary elections.

Those wishing to run may register from 24 December. Their backgrounds will be assessed by authorities between 31 December and 9 January, with approved candidates allowed to campaign for a week from 23 February.

In the 2008 elections, the Guardian Council accepted the candidacies of about 2/3 of the more than 7000 people who applied.

0900 GMT: Bank Fraud Watch. The Khaleej Times notes the statement by Iran Prosecutor General Ejei declaring the arrests of 14 more suspects in the $2.6 billion fraud, and it adds this "good news" from the regime:

Economy Minister Shamseddin Hosseini on Monday revised downwards the total figure to 17 trillion rials (around $1.6 billion), the Fars news agency reported.

He also said 25 percent of that sum had been recovered.

“We are in the process of getting back the remaining 75%, which is around 13 trillion rials ($1.2 billion dollars),” Hosseini said.

He added that the government had confiscated assets connected to a private group involved in the scandal worth an estimated four billion dollars, and that there was no concern about recovering the embezzled money.

0637 GMT: Ahmadinejad Watch. Leading politician Habiballah Asgaroladi, speaking for 14 principlist groups, has jabbed at the President, saying that financial corruption is unprecedented and calling on Ahmadinejad to "oppose sycophants and deviants around you".

0635 GMT: Sanctions Watch. BBC Persian reports that the European Union has imposed individual sanctions on three Ministers --- Moslehi (Intelligence), Najjar (Interior), and Hosseini (Culture and Islamic Guidance).

The three were among 29 Iranian officials added to the European sanction list.

0625 GMT: Political Prisoner Watch. HRANA reports that 56 Sunni missionaries from the West Azerbaijan and Kurdistan Provinces have been sentenced to a total of 164 years in prison.

0615 GMT: CyberWatch. A flurry of computer activity in Iran on Monday, as Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube were all reportedly available for a time. Ayande claims the unexpected access was due to disorder in the filtering process.

The Supreme Leader reportedly issued a fatwa this weekend that Facebook was acceptable if it not used for pornography or to support enemies of Islam.

0605 GMT: Execution and Religion. The Supreme Leader has reportedly been asked for his opinion in the case of Christian pastor Yousef Nadarkhani, facing a possible death sentence for apostasy.

A state court in Gilan Province was supposed to give a ruling on Monday, but Mohammad Dadkhah, Nadarkhani's attorney, said the decision was delayed.

Nadarkhani, who converted to Christianity from Islam in his late teens, was convicted of apostasy in November 2010 and initially sentenced to death. That sentence was suspended on condition that the pastor recant his beliefs, but he has refused to do so.

0555 GMT: Bank Fraud Watch. Mohammad Nahavandian, the President of Iran's Chamber of Commerce, has disclosed the wealth of the Aria Group --- at the centre of the $2.6 billion bank fraud --- as 4.7 trillion tomans (about $3.8 billion), with 52 companies including 38 steel factories.

Nahavandian said the 52 companies will now be put under the Ministries of Economy and Industry.

Ayande, challenging the President's assertion that the Government has no connection with the case, claims that the Aria Group bought the State-owned RSTC Company for less than 10% of its value.

MP Nader Ghazipour has said the call to impeach Minister of Economy Shamseddin Hosseini, backed by 25 signatories, will be made in Parliament on Tuesday.

0535 GMT: Elections Watch. The 25 Bahman Coalition, a collection of opposition groups, including students from Tehran and Isfahan Universities, have called for a boycott of next March's Parliamentary election.

0525 GMT: The Battle Within. The pro-Ahmadinejad website Dolate Ma claims that the real "deviant current" --- a term usually applied to the President's allies --- comes from the hawzah (seminaries), clerical academics, and Revolutionary Guards close to former President Hashemi Rafsanjani.

0520 GMT: Shutting Down Politics. Mahmoud Abbaszadeh Meshkini, the head of Iran's Article 10 Commission for Political Parties has said the activities of two leading reformist parties, the Islamic Iran Participation Front and the Mojahedin of Islamic Revolution, are illegal. In contrast, Meshkini said, the Revolutionary Guards and Basij guarantee republicanism and Islamic democracy.

0450 GMT: Ahmadinejad Watch. Fararu notes a 160-minute meeting on Monday between the President and the heads of Parliament and the judiciary, Ali Larijani and Sadegh Larijani. There are photographs, but no details beyond the platitudes of the three men about the value of continuing discussions.

0440 GMT: Taking Notice. The Independent of London writes about the sentence of a year in prison and 90 lashes for actress Marzieh Vafamehr, while The Guardian writes about the declining health of Ayatollah Hossein Kazemeyni Boroujerdi, sentenced to 11 years in prison in June 2007 for actions against national security and having links with anti-revolutionaries and spies.

0425 GMT: We begin this morning with the $2.6 billion bank fraud that is at the centre of Iranian politics. On Monday, Iran Prosecutor General Gholam-Hossein Mohseni Ejei said 14 more people had been arrested in the case, bringing the total to 36. 

Ejei added that a warrant would be issued for Mahmoud Reza Khavari, the former head of Bank Melli, if he did not return to Iran. Khavari has reportedly been in Canada, where his son lives, since last month.

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