CARACAS, Venezuela (AP) — Iran's ambassador to Venezuela said Tuesday that a check worth about $70 million, found by German authorities in the luggage of Iran's former central bank chief, was going to be used by an Iranian company for its expenses while building public housing in Venezuela.
Iranian Ambassador Hojattolah Soltani made the remarks in an interview with the Venezuelan television channel Globovision, saying the check for 300 million Venezuelan bolivars was to be used for the expenses of the Kayson Company, a Tehran-based construction business that is building thousands of homes for the Venezuelan government.
The Iranian ambassador noted that the man with the check whom German authorities stopped last month is not currently a government official. Soltani said that Tahmasb Mazaheri, a former chief of Iran's central bank and former economy minister, has been working as an adviser to the Iranian company.
"The origin of the money (was) payments of Venezuela's government to the company Kayson here in Venezuela for the projects they are doing here," Soltani said.
He said the check issued by the state-run Banco de Venezuela was signed by "one of the directors" in Iran, and was in the name of a Kayson executive who is in charge of the project in Venezuela.
"Mr. Mazaheri was traveling to Venezuela. He was bringing the check here to Venezuela to cash at Banco de Venezuela," Soltani said.
The diplomat's remarks came after Venezuelan opposition leaders demanded that President Hugo Chavez's government explain how a former Iranian official ended up with a check for such a large amount. Venezuelan government officials haven't commented about the incident.
The German newspaper Bild am Sonntag reported about the case in its Sunday edition, saying that customs officials at Duesseldorf airport found the check in Mazaheri's luggage on Jan. 21 upon his arrival from Turkey. The weekly reported that Mazaheri told authorities the money was to be used for the construction of 10,000 apartments funded by the Venezuelan government.
German customs had issued a statement on Friday saying that a check was found on a 59-year-old man, whom they declined to identify.
Bild am Sonntag reported that German police and customs were investigating possible money laundering. German authorities are expected to decide this month whether to press charges or drop the case.
Asked why Mazaheri didn't declare the check when he entered Germany, the ambassador said that because the check wasn't going to be deposited in Germany "it wasn't necessary to declare that he had a check from Venezuela."
Soltani said that Mazaheri is now in Iran and waiting for Kayson to recover the check seized by German authorities. He said that Mazaheri then plans to return to Venezuela.
Kayson has been hired to build housing in recent years while Chavez's government has developed close ties with Iran.
Soltani said that Kayson currently has 17,000 homes under construction in Venezuela and has already finished over about 10,000 homes.