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Geopolitics

Report: As Iranian Protests Continue, Regime Officials Are Fleeing To Venezuela

Reports from Tehran suggest that some senior officials may be "quietly" taking exile in the South American nation led by Nicolas Maduro, a trusted ally of the Iranian regime.

Photo of a plane landing at Tehran airport

A view on the Mehrabad Airport Terminal in Tehran

Kayhan-London

As the Iranian public persists with weeks of angry protests against the country's clerical regime, reports from Tehran's airport suggest some senior officials may have begun to pack their bags and leave the country.

Ordinary Iranians will wonder where they could go to hide, given Tehran's relative lack of friends and allies around the world. They may travel to countries the regime has helped in past decades — even if they are not the first-choice destinations for anyone keen to enjoy their ill-gotten gains. A quick look around the world map limits the choices.


One refuge may be socialist Venezuela, run by Iran's authoritarian ally President Nicolás Maduro.

The regime's top destination

An unnamed source at Tehran's Imam Khomeini Airport told Kayhan-London that currently three flights a day were taking off with "a considerable amount of cargo" bound for Venezuela.

The source said: "these people get their suitcases out in hours, with fewer passengers and flights. This began about two weeks ago, and we see these movements about two or three times a day."

Why would Islamic officials now want to flee to a delectably "indecent" land of bikinis and booze?

"Initially," the source said, "my colleagues and I thought these were embassy employees, though we noticed their car number plates didn't belong to any embassy. We don't know what they are shifting, and whether they are leaving the country with all the luggage or not. Because they won't let us examine closely. We just know that in past weeks, every day there are three to four flights to Venezuela."

Venezuela President Nicolas Maduro with his Iranian counterpart Ebrahim Raisi during a visit in Tehran

Iranian Presidency/ZUMA

Special flights

If the cargo belongs to officials, presumably they will follow sooner or later. The Daily Express, a London paper, reported in late October on rumors of Iranian politicians looking for UK, Canadian and Swiss passports as they seek to flee Iran. Its report also described special flights leaving Tehran outside the standard airport schedule.

In mid-October, the website Flightradar24 also observed an increase in "suspect" flights from Iran for places like Georgia and Belarus. In late October, Britain's Foreign Office minister (a deputy foreign secretary) assured the House of Commons the ministry would examine rumors of Iranian officials trying to settle in the UK.

Iran's protests erupted in mid-September after the suspected police killing of a woman over herhijab headscarf, which is just one of the harsh rules the Islamic Republic has enforced since 1979.

Why, anyone may wonder, would Islamic officials now want to flee to Venezuela — a delectably "indecent" land of beaches, bikinis and booze?

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Economy

Russian Diamonds Are Belgium's Best Friend — But For How Much Longer?

Belgium has lobbied hard for the past year to keep Russian diamonds off the list of sanctioned goods. Indeed, there would be a huge impact on the economy of the port city of Antwerp, if Europe finally joins with the U.S. and others in banning sale of so-called "blood diamonds" from Russia. But a 10th package of EU sanctions arriving this month may finally be the end of the road.

Photo of a technician examining the condition of a diamond in Antwerp, Belgium

A technician examining the condition of a diamond in Antwerp, Belgium

Wang Xiaojun / Xinhua via ZUMA Wire

Since Vladimir Putin's invasion of Ukraine, the European Union has agreed to nine different packages of sanctions against Russia. With the aim to punish Moscow's leadership and to cripple the war economy, European bans and limits have been placed on imports of a range of Russian products from coal, gas and steal to caviar and vodka — were successively banned over the past 11 months.

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Still, one notable Russian export is a shining exception to the rule, still imported into Europe as if nothing has changed: diamonds.

Russian state conglomerate Alrosa, which accounts for virtually all of the country's diamond production (95%) and deals with more than one-fourth of total global diamond imports, has been chugging along, business as usual.

But that may be about to change, ahead of an expected 10th package of sanctions slated to be finalized in the coming weeks. During recent negotiations, with 26 of the 27 EU members agreeing on the statement that ALSROA’s diamonds should no longer be imported, the one holdout was not surprisingly Belgium.

The Belgian opposition to the ban is explained by the port city of Antwerp, where 85% of the rough diamonds in the world pass through to get cut, polished, and marketed. There are estimates that 30,000 Belgians work for Alrosa.

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