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'Economic war': Iran’s Khamenei calls for action against financial crimes

Iranian Foreign Minister Zarif says he will not meet US Secretary of State Pompeo, sees no US talks at UN General Assembly next month
People check currency exchange rates on 8 August, after US sanctions took effect (AFP)

Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei on Saturday called for "swift and just" legal action against financial crimes from new courts after the head of the judiciary said the country faces an "economic war," state television was cited by Reuters as reporting.

Khamenei (AFP/file photo)

The rial currency has lost about half of its value since April under the threat of revived US sanctions, with heavy demand for dollars among ordinary Iranians trying to protect their savings.

The cost of living has also soared, sparking sporadic demonstrations against profiteering and corruption, with many protesters chanting anti-government slogans.

The central bank and the judiciary have blamed "enemies" for the fall of the currency, and the judiciary has said more than 40 people, including a former central bank deputy, have been arrested on charges that carry the death penalty.

The judiciary has suggested that arch-foes including the United States and Israel as well as regional rival Saudi Arabia and government opponents living in exile are fomenting the unrest.

In May, the US pulled out of a 2015 deal between world powers and Tehran under which international sanctions on Iran were lifted in return for curbs on its nuclear programme.

Washington on Tuesday reimposed the sanctions on Iran's purchase of US dollars, its trade in gold and precious metals and its dealings with metals, coal and industrial-related software, AFP reported.

The United States has told other countries they must halt imports of Iranian oil from early November or face US financial measures.

Total pulls out of gas project, China in

After French oil and gas company Total said it would pull out of Iran's South Pars $5bn gas project amid the threat of US sanctions, China's state-owned petroleum corporation CNPC took a majority share in the project, the Associated Press cited Iran's official IRNA news agency as saying on Saturday.

The report cited an official in Iran's state oil company as saying CNPC now owns an 80 percent stake in the project, having bought more shares from Total. CNPC originally had about 30 percent of the project.

Bloomberg reported earlier that the US had failed to convince China to halt imports of Iranian crude oil.

While US President Donald Trump has offered talks on a "more comprehensive deal," Iran has baulked at negotiating under the pressure of sanctions.

Zarif (AFP/file photo)

Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif was asked by the Tasnim news agency on Saturday whether there was any plan to meet with US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo. "No, there will be no meeting," was his blunt response. 

Zarif also said there were no plans for a meeting with US officials on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly in New York next month, which both Iranian President Hassan Rouhani and Trump are due to attend.

In his letter to Khamenei, judiciary chief Ayatollah Sadeq Amoli Larijani said "the current special economic conditions are considered an economic war," and called for setting up special courts to deal quickly with financial crimes.

Khamenei agreed, saying: "The purpose should be to punish those guilty of corrupt economic practices swiftly and justly," the report said.

New Islamic revolutionary courts would be set up for two years and directed to impose maximum sentences on those "disrupting and corrupting the economy," and appeal rights will be curbed, Amoli Larijani proposed in his letter, which was read on state television and cited by Reuters.

While the rial strengthened in the two days leading up to the reimposition of US sanctions after the government announced foreign exchange measures allowing greater freedom to trade dollars at market rates, it subsequently fell.

There has since been a fresh decline of almost 13 percent, with the rial at 106,200 per dollar on Saturday, according to currency tracking website Bonbast - approaching the record low of 119,000 that it reached on 31 July.