By Safa Haeri in London

LONDON 13TH FEB. (IPS) Islamic banking system and the so-called Islamic economy have ruined Iran, dilapidated billions of the nation's wealth, generalised corruption, generated a speculative economy and left Iran out of the world's trend towards prosperity and economic growth, a panel on Iran and Economic Problems was told Saturday in London.

Organised by the Paris-based Association of Iranian Researchers (AIR) at the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS) of London University, leading Iranian economists and experts noted that the very notion of Islamic banking based on prohibition of interests was "an absurdity resulting from the total ignorance of the ruling religious concerning modern economy".

"At the origin, there is this basic contradiction between Western concept of economy and finances and the Islamic one that while banks lend money and charges interests for a purpose of productivity and economic activities, Islam meant helping the poor and the needy against money lenders", noted Dr Hasan Mansour, a professor of economics teaching at major European universities, including the American University of Paris.

Noting that Islamic economy was a "total abstract full of contradictions - stock exchange is forbidden in Saudi Arabia, the cradle of Islamic banking while it is authorised in Islamic Iran, interests are forbidden in Sudan, but allowed in Pakistan - Dr Manour pointed out that everywhere the Islamic economy and banking system had been implemented, it ended by ruining the economy and producing economic havoc.

Hence, from the start, the Islamic Republic, basing its economic laws on Islamic and Koranic precepts, created obstacles to the road of economic growth and productivity by fighting against all the signs of modernity and civilisation, observed Dr Javad Gohari, an economist teaching at London University.

"The regime stood against television, video, satellite, Internet. It banned art, music, and artistic creation. It forced the best of Iranian brains to leave the country, brains that could turn Iran into a developed nation", he said.

Dr Fereydoun Khavand, another Iranian economist who teaches at French universities noted for his part that in the past 20 years Iran had missed all major economic revolutions that changed the face of the modern world.

"While Communist China became the paradise of foreign investors, while nations in Asia and Latin America became economic tigers thanks to their ability at attracting foreign investments, while all over the world, nation decentralised, privatised and secured economic prosperity and growth by encouraging the private sector, the Islamic Republic became the first odd regime that banned foreign investments", Mr. Khavand remarked, pointing out that with more 90 per cent of the economy being controlled by the State, the Islamic Republic has become the world's biggest centralised, monopolistic governments.

Meanwhile, the strange case of the speaker who "disappeared" on the first day of the conference became a thriller story the kind cherished by John Le Carre after he told friends that he in fact had been "abducted" by two unidentified men who had threatened him that if he speaks at the venue, he would endanger his life and harm the situation of the Zoroastrians in Iran.

Dr Kasra Vafadari, an Iranian Zoroastrian who was to give a lecture about the situation of his community in Iran under the Islamic rule did disappeared minutes before the start of the afternoon session centred on the situation of religious minorities in Iran, creating fear and confusion among the 100 people who had attended the conference, particularly the 2 other panellists who would talk on the situation of Iranian Jewish and Sunni Muslims minorities.

Based in Paris where he teaches at French universities, Mr. Kasra is reported to have told his wife and some friends that he was going to have coffee with two men who wanted to talk to him during the coffee break.

Eventually, Dr Kasra showed up late in the evening as London police investigators who had been alerted by the organisers were interrogating both his French wife and other people to find out about the unidentified men.

Dr. Hosein Lajevardi, the president of the AIR told IPS that Mr. Kasra had informed him that his 2 alleged abductors had warned him against taking part in the conference, menacing that if he does speak, not only he would put his life at risk, but he would also create problems for the 250.000 to 300.000 Iranian Zoroastrians religious community that enjoys limited freedom under the ruling Shi'a Muslims that controls Iran.

A Paris-based non-profit making organisation with no political or ideological colouring, the AIR has established a sound reputation thanks for the meetings and conferences it organises under the general title of "Iran in the Threshold of 2000" that includes vast and varied subjects ranging from arts and music to the situation of women or minorities, press or political parties, democracy or Iran's foreign relations etc. where leading experts, both but mostly Iranians and foreigners give lectures.

But while the London police "closed" Mr. Kasra's case, concluding that he had not been "abducted" without offering any explanation, Mr. Lajevardi think that the unidentified men were agents of the Islamic Republic who wanted to give both himself and the AIR a "clear message to stop its activities at once".

The mystery shrouded eight hours-long disappearing of Mr. Kasra in London coincided with the assassination in Iran, of the German Director of Deutsche Bank office in Tehran at a time that the giant banking institution had successfully arranged a one billion DM loan for the dramatically foreign cash short Iran.

Observers noted that these latest incidents happens as, led by the ruling but lamed conservatives, political violence is on the increase in Iran, as shown by the visible deterioration of the regime's relations with the outside world, most notably with France, England and Germany. ENDS 2 ACI 1529902