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Iran's judiciary probes fraud at state bank-papers

TEHRAN, Sept 21 (Reuters) - Iran's judiciary has launched an investigation into charges that hundreds of millions of dollars were embezzled from a state bank, newspapers said on Thursday.

The Entekhab daily said four people, a branch manager of Sepah Bank, his deputy and two employees were now being interrogated for their role in the alleged scam which a senior MP called ``the biggest Iran's banking history.''

Deputy Naser Khaleqi, a member of the presiding board which administers parliament's agenda, said parliament would also investigate the fraud which newspapers said began at a branch in eastern Tehran last year and continued for several months.

Hayat-e No newspaper said at least 2.09 trillion rials ($256 million) had gone missing from the branch. Sepah Bank is the fifth largest of Iran's banks, all of which are state-run.

Former MP Iraj Sefati said parliament had already investigated the case and prepared a 1,000-page report.

``But unfortunately Central Bank officials and the management of Sepah Bank were opposed to our investigations and used threats and promises to try to hinder the investigations,'' Entekhab quoted Sefati as saying.

Hayat-e No said the general manager of Sepah Bank at the time of the fraud was Valliollah Seif, the former general manager of another state bank, Saderat Bank.

During his tenure at Saderat some 1.23 trillion rials went missing in a fraud scandal, Hayat-e No said.

Seif is now managing director Bank-i Melli, Iran's biggest bank with 33 percent of the nation's banking assets. ($1 - 8,160 rials)


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