Nasim Roshanaei – The process of constructing the Miandoroud Petrochemical Plant by Abdullah Abdi has been fraught with conflicting narratives, contradictory actions, and media controversies involving some reformist and principled authorities, and even some principled individuals. It appears that the support or opposition of officials to this project has, instead of being responsible and considering the interests of the people and the environment of the country, been merely driven by personal gains.
This is the final part of the investigations series, “Abdollah Abdi: The Mysterious Journey of the Petrochemical Investor in Miankaleh from Rags to Riches” investigations series by Nasim Roshanaei.
Have they obtained an environmental permit?
Despite conflicting news in the media and orders from some officials in Raisi’s government to stop the project due to the lack of environmental permits, the fencing of the complex was completed. Ghasem Khalili, a shareholder of the Amirabad, Mazandaran petrochemical plant, which was renamed to “Gohar Mazandaran Petrochemical,” claimed in a report by the Iranian Petrochemical News Agency (IPNA) on July 5, 2023, that they had received all necessary approvals from the relevant authorities, from the initial agreement to obtaining the necessary permits.
Khalili stated that even former deputies of the Environmental Protection Organization had signed a letter, which served as a permit to start the complex.
Despite the investor’s representative’s claim, even Isa Kalantari, the head of the Environmental Protection Organization during Rouhani’s government, who had greenlit this project, said last year that the project could not meet environmental conditions and therefore did not receive an environmental permit.
Although it is clear that this complex could not obtain an environmental permit, some officials close to Abdi and its shareholders pretended as if an environmental permit had been issued, based on this letter. This letter was actually a minutes of a meeting with the letterhead of the Islamic Consultative Assembly and had several signatures on it.
In a webinar on Payam-e-ma on July 4, “Reviewing the Inefficiency Dimensions in Resolving the Miankaleh Case and Options for the Environmental Community” Mohammad Hanif Golzar said:
“The most important signature that can be referred to is that of Mr. Nikzad, the then Vice-President of the Parliament. The story is that Mr. Nikzad holds an informal meeting in his office after hours, attended by Mr. Hosseinipour, the Governor of Mazandaran, Mr. Shariati, the representative of the eastern province, and other representatives such as Mehdi Saadati from Babol, Baqerzadeh from Babolsar and Fereydunkenar, Mr. Ramezani, the executor and CEO of Miankaleh Petrochemical, and two former deputies of the Environmental Protection Organization, namely Masoud Tajrishi, Deputy of Human Environment, and Ali Asghar Daneshian, Deputy of Legal and Parliamentary Affairs.”
According to Golzar, the attendees signed this minutes, and this “worthless paper” became a document for the purchase of 92 hectares of the best pasture lands in the north of the country.
Majid Makhdoom, who was present as a member of the Supreme Environmental Council at this webinar, also said:
“When Mr. Tajrishi was the Deputy of Human Environment, I was not in the Supreme Environmental Council. However, the Miankaleh issue was raised twice in the Council, and no one accepted it. Once Dr. Salajegheh was present. We concluded and rejected the issue. In another meeting, Raisi was present, and we said Miankaleh never has the ecological, economic, and social capacity for petrochemicals. Ultimately, this issue was never accepted.”
Despite this, Khalili, a shareholder of this petrochemical plant, sophistically claimed in a press conference on July 4 that they have acted in accordance with the law and environmental conservation. He argued that the location of the Amirabad petrochemical plant in Hosseinabad, Behshahr, is far from the Miankaleh peninsula and does not pose a threat to the environment of this region, accusing the media of lying.
But why all these contradictions? Ardalan Tootchi, a water researcher and Ph.D. in Environmental Sciences from Sorbonne University Paris, explains these contradictions to Radio Zamaneh:
“It seems that the responsible government body, after signing a contract with the investor and facing opposition, is waiting for the opposition to subside by disseminating contradictory and vague information, as usual. The evidence suggests that the investor probably did not face a ‘legal prohibition.’ Otherwise, they would not have been allowed to fence the area or make any changes. One likely scenario is that by fencing, moving machinery, and asserting ownership, the investor intends to demand compensation from the government party of this contract.”
Land grabbing – Is this the main goal?
Since its inception, the Islamic Republic has not adopted a sustainable and responsible approach in its governance style towards natural resources and the ecosystem of the land, focusing only on further profiteering.
Roozbeh Eskandari, an expert in hydraulic structures and a senior advisor to the British Columbia Water Organization, believes that the ambiguous process of constructing this petrochemical plant is related to a systematic issue that has always existed in the governance style of the Islamic Republic. He cites the construction process of the Chamshir Dam as an example and says, “Initially, they deny it, but they do it in secret and then present the people with a fait accompli.” Eskandari suspects that the main goal is probably land grabbing. This expert tells Radio Zamaneh:
“Definitely, some people benefit from these projects. The reason is that there is a sick structure. A project is approved without environmental assessments. In practice, they first deny its existence and then we see that it happens. Many of these projects are merely fenced off, the lands are seized, and then sold off in pieces without their main use being implemented. Many abandoned factories are sold at exorbitant prices. There is a term for it, rent-seeking, if you become aware of the use and quality of a land earlier than others and ultimately manage to sell it by obtaining the necessary permits.”
Dr. Mansour Sohrabi, an agroecologist and researcher in ecology and the environment, talks about the extralegal actions of those connected to security forces through rent-seeking. Sohrabi tells Radio Zamaneh:
“Unfortunately, in Iran, we see that mafia bands affiliated with power institutions act beyond the law, causing the most damage to the environment and natural resources. Any manipulation is free for them, and with the rent they have, they can circumvent the law and advance their project. There are many examples in this regard. Many dams and major projects, including petrochemical projects, have been built without environmental permits.”
Despite this, Mansour Sohrabi, like Roozbeh Eskandari, believes that land grabbing might be one of the main reasons for constructing this project. They say that on the surface, the project is named a petrochemical plant, but ultimately, the investor might engage in urban development there, and all this commotion is to facilitate this change of land use.
According to Sohrabi, any kind of land use change there is prohibited. If a change of land use occurs, the Miankaleh wetland will face fundamental problems.
Ghasem Khalili, one of the shareholders of this petrochemical company, says that 92 hectares of land in Hosseinabad have been officially registered in the land registry office with the permission of the Environmental Protection Organization, and the Behshahr county documents have been leased to this company for 99 years by representatives of Natural Resources and Watershed Management.
Is 92 hectares really necessary for a petrochemical plant? Fatemeh Vaez Javadi, a faculty member at the University of Tehran, answered this question in an interview with the IRNA news agency:
“I have visited many petrochemical plants, and basically, a petrochemical plant does not need more than 10 to 15 hectares of land. Now the question arises, why have they taken 90 hectares of land in the Miankaleh area for construction?”
Hor Mansouri somewhat agrees with Sohrabi and Eskandari. In an interview with Radio Tabiat about the purchase of the Amirabad pasture lands, he mentioned that the investor bought these lands very cheaply and could sell a part of them at a high price by changing their use, thus making a profit.
The next point that Hor Mansouri makes is:
According to Hor Mansouri on Radio Tabiat, in the summer of this year, workers of this petrochemical were watering the eucalyptus saplings they had planted in the valuable Hosseinabad pasture, but they were not watering the other saplings, apparently adopting a different strategy. The fencing of this complex continued from early May 2023 to June 2023.
A New Twist: The Investor is German!
According to a report by the Hamshahri newspaper, the Governor of Mazandaran announced in the first week of September during a press conference in the Government Week that the main investor for the construction of the Miankaleh Petrochemical plant has suddenly changed. The new investor is a German individual, and an initial capital of 200 trillion Tomans will be brought into Mazandaran for the equipment and launch of the petrochemical plant.
Hor Mansouri, in his interview with Radio Tabiat, calls the new claim made by the governor unrealistic and asks:
“If the investor has changed and is now a German, why did the representative of the original petrochemical investor (Abdollah Abdi) enter the Industrial and Environmental Infrastructure Commission uninvited and defend his own petrochemical plant in front of Mr. Salajegheh, along with two representatives from eastern Mazandaran, and try to negotiate?”
According to Mansouri, it is clear that with this unrealistic claim, they want to eliminate the role of the first investor, whose issue of being a major debtor has been raised. They claim that they will use filters that do not create pollution. Hor Mansouri asks if these filters exist and the government has access to them, why is 9 million liters of mazut burned daily in the Neka power plant, located a short distance from the petrochemical plant?
No official has yet mentioned the name of this German company or the German individual. Seyed Mahmoud Hosseinipour, the Governor of Mazandaran, who claimed the involvement of a German investor, has also not mentioned any names.
Hor Mansouri, in an interview with the Shargh newspaper, says he also does not know the name of this company. According to him, individuals associated with the Gohar Mazandaran company have taken several invoices related to a German company to the Environmental Protection Organization and claimed hundreds of billions of damages to that company. Mansouri speculates that considering the construction costs incurred in the Hosseinabad pasture, this amount could reach one or two trillion Tomans.
The Next Move: Either Compensate or Let the Steel Factory Be Built
Let’s return to the temporary permit cancellation by the Ministry of Oil on October 29. After this event, Abdollah Abdi and his associates attacked the Environmental Protection Organization and the government, extorting the government.
Zeynab Rahimi wrote in a report in the Shargh newspaper on November 14 that agents or individuals close to the Gohar Mazandaran company approached the Environmental Protection Organization and Land Affairs and claimed that the German investor had incurred expenses for the Miankaleh Petrochemical project. They estimated the damages at around 450 billion Tomans and ultimately placed the burden of compensating for this loss on the Environmental Protection Organization and the government.
Since September, when a German company was mentioned in the media as the main investor, they continue to talk about a German company without naming the company or the German individual. Hor Mansouri, in an interview with Shargh, says he also does not know the name of this company. According to him, individuals associated with the Gohar Mazandaran company have taken several invoices related to a German company to the Environmental Protection Organization and claimed hundreds of billions of damages to that company. Mansouri speculates that considering the construction costs incurred in the Hosseinabad pasture, this amount could reach one or two trillion Tomans.
Hor Mansouri tells the Shargh newspaper that the lobbyists of this company have also put forward a second option to the Environmental Protection Organization and Natural Resources: to allow the land to remain in their possession so they can establish a steel factory in that area.
The concern of the Miankaleh protectors is not about replacing the petrochemical with steel. The issue is that the construction of such industries within four kilometers of the Miankaleh wetland and the destruction of 92 hectares of fertile pasture will affect the lives of the pastoralists and the local people. Hor Mansouri tells Shargh about this:
“The main concern and protest of the opponents is that this area under occupation is located in the Miankaleh Biosphere Reserve, and if it is allocated for any industry, it will lead to the destruction of the ecological values and vegetation of the region and ultimately remove Miankaleh from the UNESCO list.”
Regarding the Amirabad Petrochemical issue, in addition to the destruction of the ecosystem, vegetation, and harm to the wildlife of the region, one of the issues that may be overlooked is the livelihood of the pastoralists in the Amirabad area. The seizure of 92 hectares of green pasture under the pretext of building a petrochemical or steel plant makes life difficult for these locals. Mansouri, in an interview with the Hamshahri newspaper, talks about the situation of the pastoralists:
“The petrochemical, after seizing the land and before construction, has caused many social tensions in the area and has seriously challenged more than 50 pastoralists with grazing contracts and 11,000 livestock units.”
The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) has recognized Miankaleh as a wildlife sanctuary. This wetland has been designated as a protected area since 1969 and was introduced to UNESCO as one of the Earth’s biosphere reserves in 1976.
Majid Makhdoom, a member of the Supreme Council for Environmental Protection, speaks about the importance of protecting the Miankaleh ecosystem:
“One of the main features of wildlife sanctuaries is that humans are not allowed to settle within a 15-kilometer radius of them. This rule belongs to the International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources and the Environmental Protection Organization and should govern the sanctuaries.”
The land of the Gohar Mazandaran Petrochemical is located within a four-kilometer radius of Miankaleh. The construction of any industrial factory in this area is equivalent to the destruction of the valuable ecosystem of this region and harm to the life and health of the local people. The ecosystem of this wetland, already endangered due to global warming, climate change, unsustainable agriculture and livestock, excessive hunting, and unsustainable economic activities, cannot withstand another polluting industry like petrochemicals or steel.
Missing part of the story? This article is a part of an investigation series by Nasim Roshanaei. Click below for previous segments.