Iran arrests tycoon known for sanctions busting over graft

TEHRAN (AFP) - Iran on Monday arrested on corruption charges a tycoon who reputedly played a major role in busting sanctions imposed on Tehran over its disputed nuclear programme, media reports said.

The news of Mr Babak Zanjani's arrest was announced by prosecutor general Gholam Hossein Mohseni Ejei, who did not provide any other details, the official IRNA news agency reported.

But IRNA said the case against Mr Zanjani - who is said to have become rich by helping Iran to circumvent global sanctions on its vital oil exports - was related to "financial crimes".

It added that Mr Zanjani had been taken to Tehran's notorious Evin Prison.

The US Treasury put Mr Zanjani on its sanctions blacklist in April after finding he masterminded a network to move oil and money for Iran that involved a Swiss-based company and bank in Malaysia.

The European Union had imposed sanctions on him in December last year.

Mr Zanjani oversees a conglomerate that comprises 65 companies which bring him an annual income of six to seven billion dollars, according to his website.

His business empire came under scrutiny after President Hassan Rouhani took office in August, faced with accusations of not returning billions of dollars to the government.

The arrest came a day after Mr Rouhani ordered his administration to take measures to fight "financial corruption... particularly those who have taken advantage of economic sanctions".

Iran's ailing economy has been struggling in recent years under an array of international sanctions designed to coerce it into to reining in on its controversial nuclear ambitions.

According to Iranian media, Mr Zanjani was also involved in illegal gold sales from Turkey to Iran that have sparked a sweeping graft investigation in the neighbouring country.