Iran: Crackdown on foreign goods and business begins

Despite the deal between Iran and the P5+1 powers lifting sanctions in exchange for compliance with the dismantling of the Iranian nuclear program signed over the summer, it appears that Iran’s government is not as eager to rejoin the world economy as most originally believed. For those hoping that the deal would cause a flood of foreign investment and a gold-rush type situation into the world’s largest remaining frontier market, this is cause for concern. Not only have foreign businessmen been arrested, but a large civil crackdown has raised a number of eyebrows across the developed world with the imprisonment of journalists, activists, and cultural figures.

This has resulted from the dual agenda of Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei, who has allowed the deal to proceed, but has since denounced the United States as Iran’s chief enemy and warned that the United States would attempt to infiltrate Iran with a more open economy. Incredibly, some of this was openly contradicted by President Hassan Rouhani, who said that many of the arrests made in the crackdown were largely “groundless,” a major departure from the President’s previous deference to the Supreme Leader.

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News Briefs:

  • Kazakhstan has announced it will sell off its government stakes in various large companies, engaging in the largest privatization scheme since the breakup of the Soviet Union in 1991. The move came in tandem with a warning from President Nursultan Nazarbayev, who extolled the virtues of “diversification” and warned that “economic turbulence” for many emerging markets countries would dwarf the impact of the financial crisis of ’08-’09. Earlier this week, the Central Bank governor was replaced, likely due to the second devaluation of the Kazakh currency, the tenge, which declined in August by some 24%. Thus far, the largest company to announce a sale of government stakes in Temir Zholy, the national rail company, and other companies aimed at development of Astana into a Central Asian “Dubai.”
  • The European Bank of Reconstruction and Development branch of the World Bank has agreed to assist Turkmenistan in creation of entrepreneurship support programs that would increase private sector activity in energy, transport, communications, agriculture, and others. In the World Bank’s “Doing Business” Report, Turkmenistan ranked as one of the hardest countries in the world to go through bureaucratic hurdles to start businesses, and the recent departure of a German oil exploration and production company likely spurred the Turkmen government into compliance with this new arrangement.
  • Uzbekistan signed some $12 billion worth of privatization deals, on specific investment projects according to a statement by Deputy Prime Minister Rustam Azimov at the end of an investment conference. According to other details released from the private conference venue, foreign companies would be offered stakes in 68 large companies (and 1,200 other smaller and medium sized companies) such as electronics plants, chemicals producers, and cement makers. All of this follows a major move by Kazakhstan to sell its own government stakes, likely to raise money thanks to declining remittances and lack of liquidity due to falling energy tax revenues. As of right now, foreigners would only be allowed to buy minority stakes.
  • Russia’s third largest mobile telecom operator, Vimpelcom, posted a $1 billion loss, which was blamed primarily on the loss of a $900 million provision related to the company’s operations in Uzbekistan. The Russian firm, which is owned by a Norwegian telecom holding company, Telenor ASA, has hired a law firm to look into Vimpelcom’s management over the past 10 years (or the length of time it was involved in Uzbekistan). A major of profitability for Vimpelcom, EBITDA, earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation, and amortization was down 96% from the previous year to $58 million.
  • Tajikistan’s Ministry of Transportation has responded to the crash of a cargo plane in South Sudan by stopping all flights in the Tajik cargo airline known as Asia Airways. The accident is only the latest in a series of plane accidents in that same region, including a Russian plane crash in Egypt. The Tajik authorities said that the company operating the plane, an Armenian, would be responsible for the maintenance of the plane. According to Eurasianet, a Russian tabloid website LifeNews, which has connections with the Kremlin, cited a source that said the plane was probably overloaded with cargo.

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