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Audit court cancels private ownership of Iran’s largest farming company

US Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN) (L) talks with Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) during a rally with fellow Democrats before voting on H.R. 1, or the People Act, on the East Steps of the US Capitol on March 08, 2019 in Washington, DC. (AFP photo)
File photo shows a view to the headquarters of Iran’s Supreme Audit Court in capital Tehran.

Iran’s Supreme Audit Court has cancelled a government decision two years ago to divest shares in the country’s largest farming company to private owners.

In a ruling issued on Wednesday, an advisory committee of the Audit Court ruled against the privatization of Moghan Agriculture, Industry and Livestock Company which had been granted in October 2018.

Verdicts by the audit court, a subsidiary of the Iranian parliament, would be binding if no appeal is made within 20 days from its issuance.

Moghan, located in the northwestern province of Ardabil, had been sold for nearly 18 trillion rials (over $500 million at the exchange rate back then) to Shirin Asal Food Group and partners.

However, the privatization faced growing criticism from the very start with many believing the firm, which employs thousands of people and owns 2,600 hectares of orchards, had been sold very cheap.

A parliamentary lawmaker from Ardabil told the official IRNA news agency that the private owners had benefitted considerably from nearly two years of operation in the company and the government would owe them almost nothing in damages.

Sodeyf Badri said renationalizing Moghan was a popular demand among people in Azerbaijan and Ardabil regions which is home to the Iranian Azeri community.  

Ahmad Alirezabeigi, another lawmaker representing the city of Tabriz, the capital of East Azerbaijan province, claimed Moghan’s current value has exceeded 400 trillion rials (nearly $1.345 billion).

Alirezabeigi said five members of the advisory committee of the audit court had ruled against the privatization, while one endorsed it and one was absent during the hearing held earlier on Wednesday.   

The ruling comes just a week after Iranian Judiciary chief Ayatollah Ebrahim Raisi highlighted Moghan’s case during a trip to Ardabil, saying that the conditions that led to the privatization of the company in 2017 should be thoroughly examined.

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