TEHRAN: Iran's Oil Minister Bijan Zanganeh launched a blistering attack on Monday on industry middlemen, branding them "parasites that want to suck the nation's blood" for their own financial benefit.
His comments, a day after the United States and Europe moved to lift sanctions on Iran following a July nuclear deal, coincide with ramped up efforts to attract international oil majors back to Tehran.
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Sanctions relief could unlock Iran, which has the world's largest combined oil and gas reserves, from decades of under-investment and stifled production.
But emerging opportunities come after a string of corruption scandals in which middlemen were allegedly co-opted by past governments to circumvent oil sanctions, pocketing commissions.
One of them, Babak Zanjani, currently on trial for fraud and economic crimes, is accused of pocketing $2.8 billion during former president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's tenure.
Zanjani could face the death penalty if he is convicted.
The oil minister urged foreign investors to deal directly with his ministry, rather than using third parties to find their way into the Islamic republic's abundant energy market.
"We despise the corrupt parasites that want to suck the nation's blood even in this situation," he said, to loud applause at an oil and energy industry event in the capital.
"I recommend foreign companies stay away from these corrupt individuals," who know nothing but "deceitfulness". "They will tell you that until you give us our commission you can't get your work done. Don't believe them," he added.
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Iran will hold a conference in Tehran on November 21-22 to unveil new contract terms designed to tempt foreign companies back.
Despite renewed interest since the July 14 nuclear deal between Iran and Britain, China, France, Russia and the United States plus Germany, a precipitous fall in international oil prices in the past year and market glut may cause energy firms to hold off.
Low crude prices have left Iran's oil sales income at a 10-year low.
A raft of international sanctions on Iran — as punishment for its disputed nuclear programme — led energy giants such as Total, Shell and Statoil to leave in recent years.
But Zanganeh said the "sanctions era" was almost over, and his remarks appeared an attempt to assure potential investors they should not be worried about doing business in Iran.
The government is "in a relentless fight against corruption" and those foreigners waiting to leap into the oil sector should know that "utmost transparency" is a priority, Zanganeh said.
He promised a new regime that would include better access to himself and senior oil managers in Iran. "Think long-term and work directly with us," he added.
Iran's ageing and under-tapped oil industry is desperate for foreign technology and funding.
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A mere one-per cent increase in efficiency would bring in $400 billion in added value, according to Gholam Reza Manouchehri, the chairman of Monday's event.
After next month's Tehran conference, Iran will hold an international event on February 22-24 in London, by when all nuclear-related sanctions should have been lifted.
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