Suspects in Iran’s $3-billion bank fraud went on trial today, with prime suspect Mah Afarid Amir Khosravi accused of being a “corruptor on the earth” – a charge that can carry the death penalty.

Iranian media report that the trial began this morning with Judge Nasser Seraj presiding. Of the six defence lawyers, four are female and two are clergymen. A 12,000-page file was presented to the court implicating 32 people in the fraud.

The $3-billion fraud case, considered the biggest in Iranian history, came to light last August. The Amir Mansour Khosravi Trade Company was named as the “main perpetrator” of the fraud. A number of bank chief executives resigned or were fired over the scandal. The head of the Melli Bank fled Iran and is currently in Canada, while the deputy head of Iran’s Central Bank and several other bank officials are now under arrest in connection with the case.

Meanwhile, several government officials and Members of Parliament are also under investigation.

Tehran’s Prosecutor read out the indictments, calling on the court to punish to the full extent of the law all those found guilty of being “corruptors on earth.”

He alleged that the accused used a complicated plan to accumulate billions in “illegal wealth."

The indictment was read by the prosecutor’s representative and the charges were described as equivalent to “treason against the people and the Islamic Republic regime.”

When asked to enter a plea, Mah Afarid Amir Khosravi said he does not accept the charges “in general.” He did, however, admit to some ”violations being committed” and took responsibility for them, adding that accusing his employees was not fair.

He spoke out against the methods used to interrogate him, saying: “I have been in solitary confinement for more than six months and have not read any of the reports and have had only two hours to talk with my lawyer, which is not enough.`

The defence team also challenged the court on the grounds that it had not allowed appropriate time to consult with clients and prepare the case. But the judge overruled the objection based on guidelines set down by the Expediency Council.

The defense announced, however, that it was not able to present a defence case on the charge of "corruptor on earth" because ithad not been allowed to read the state’s case.

Amir Khosravi went on to admit that he bribed Mahmoudreza Khavari, the former head of the Melli Bank, and other officials at various ministries and banks. He acknowledged his personal financial gains but rejected that his actions could be seen as treason, since he did not transfer his wealth outside the country.