Swedish cosmetics worker charged in Iran

A Swedish-Iranian employee of cosmetics firm Oriflame has been charged in Iran for allegedly profiting from a pyramid scheme days after five of the company's employees were arrested amid suspicions of spying.

“He has been formally charged with establishing a pyramid scheme and deriving illegal earnings from it,” ministry spokeswoman Camilla Åkesson Lindblom told AFP.

She said the employee was a man in his thirties who held both Swedish and Iranian nationalities.

The Tehran office of Swedish direct-sales cosmetics company Oriflame was shut down by authorities on August 22 and five of its employees were arrested amid allegations that it was running a pyramid scheme and was possibly backed by a spy agency.

On Saturday, Iran’s intelligence Minister Heydar Moslehi accused the firm of trying to harm Iran’s security.

“Oriflame intended to fight the (Iranian) system. There are no economic reasons behind the company,” he was quoted by state television as telling reporters at the Imam Khomeini mausoleum in Tehran.

The company’s chief financial officer said the company was not involved in any political activities and had not been told why its Iranian operations were shut down.

“We are a cosmetics company, we are selling direct. We are of course not involved in any political activities in the country. It is very very difficult to comment on” the accusations, Oriflame’s chief financial officer Gabriel Bennet told AFP.

“We are seeking a dialogue with the authorities but we need to know more about why we are in this situation before we can make any comments.”

“We are doing our utmost to solve the situation in Iran and especially for our colleagues being detained,” he added.

On Tuesday, Swedish foreign ministry officials held a meeting with Iran’s ambassador to Stockholm Rasoul Eslami to discuss Oriflame’s situation.

The case of Sakineh Mohammadi-Ashtiani, a 43-year-old mother of two sentenced to death by stoning by an Iranian court, was also brought up, a ministry spokeswoman said.

Bennet said last Monday Oriflame believed the closure and arrests may be linked to its business model.

He told AFP then that the firm’s business model was to “sell cosmetics and give 40,000 Iranians, mainly women, a possibility to earn money through direct sales.”

He dismissed any reference to Oriflame operating a pyramid scheme as “ridiculous.”

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