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Wednesday, April 25, 2007

How Iran Bankrolls its Projects

Western intelligence agencies are taking a close look on how Iran finances its major energy projects.

One of the mainstays of the funding effort is a Jersey-based Iranian firm Naftiran Intertrade Company (NICO), which set up its leading establishment at Pully near Lausanne in Switzerland in 2002. An affiliate of the National Iranian Oil Company, it has been run since 1999 by Majid Razavi Hedayatzadeh, former Iranian envoy to Rome where he formed tight ties with ENI. NICO, which enjoys large credit lines with major banks such as France’s BNP Paribas and Calyon and Japan’s JBIC, played a big part in financing the South Pars gas fields. It has just announced that it will shortly award three contracts for the Azadegan oil project near the border with Iraq and claimed the deals would be worth a total of USD 95 billion.That announcement, however, is certainly premature because of the strong pressing the U.S. is bringing to bear on international banks. In that context, NICO could be tempted to call on lesser- known banks with which it has worked in the past, like BLOM Bank in Lebanon, to put up part of the finance.

BLOM is run by Syria’s Azhari family, which holds a majority stake in the bank, and has long been entrenched in Geneva, Paris (its affiliate in the French capital, Banorabe, was formed in 1976), London, Dubai, Damas, Amman and elsewhere. Among prominent persons sitting on its board is the Saudi businessman of Turkish origin, Ghassan Ibrahim Shaker, who holds a high French distinction, remains close to the Saudi royal family and serves as personal consultant to the ruler of Oman, sultan Qaboos Bin Sayed (he is also Oman’s ambassador to London and Geneva).

One way of avoiding pressure on banks has been to conduct clearing operations between several capitals and a number of big international groups. A number of such operations have involved a highly discreet Iranian businesswomen who divides her time between Paris and London, Shakira Zanganeh. The wife of Adnan Khashoggi, she acts on behalf of several major European groups. Her father was one of the heroes of the Iranian revolution and she is related to a former Iran oil minister, Bijan Namdar Zanganeh (he held the post until 2006). The latter, like Hedayatrzadeh, is a stalwart supporter of the powerful chairman of the Expediency Discernment Council, Akbar Hashemi Rafsandjani.

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