- - Monday, July 30, 2012

TEHRAN — An Iranian court has sentenced four people to death and given two more life sentences on charges linked to a $2.6 billion bank fraud described as the biggest financial scam in the country’s history, an official said Monday.

The trial, which began in February, involved some of the country’s largest financial institutions and raised uncomfortable questions about corruption at senior levels in Iran’s tightly controlled economy.

Few details have been released, possibly to avoid exposing too much internal scandal while Iran’s leaders seek to assure the country it can ride out sanctions over Tehran’s nuclear program.

Prosecutors have referred to the linchpin defendant by a nickname and have provided just general information about his purported business empire. The main charges included using forged documents to get credit at one of Iran’s top banks to purchase assets including major state-owned companies.

MALI

Islamists stone unmarried couple

BAMAKO — Islamists in northern Mali have stoned an unmarried couple to death, the first reported Sharia killing since they occupied the area, increasing pressure on an embattled interim government.

The execution came as interim President Dioncounda Traore finalized a unity government that foreign partners have demanded be formed by Tuesday to take decisive action against the jihadists who have cleaved the nation in two.

As politicians grappled for solutions in Bamako and West African capitals, the al Qaeda-linked Islamists grew bolder, dragging a rural couple to the center of the town of Aguelhok on Sunday for a public stoning.

An official confirmed the information, saying the couple had two children, the younger of whom was 6 months old.

The small town in the region of Kidal near the Algerian border was one of the first to be captured by Tuareg separatist rebels on Jan. 24. Eighty-two civilians and soldiers were executed during the attack.

VENEZUELA

Chavez: Joining trade bloc a boon for Venezuela

CARACAS — Joining the South American trade bloc Mercosur will be a boon for Venezuela and should help the country’s businesses boost international sales, President Hugo Chavez said Monday as he left for a meeting in Brazil.

Mr. Chavez urged Venezuelan business leaders, some of whom are concerned about reducing tariffs, to support the initiative as he departed for the meeting in Brasilia.

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