Observers

Using souped-up cars tricked out with smoke machines, smugglers in Iran have taken to Instagram to boast about their 200 kph convoys and their run-ins with the police. One of them spoke to The Observers.

READ PART ONE: Iran's 'Fast and Furious' smugglers: how to pimp a Peugeot (1/2)

Farshid [not his real name] is an Iranian "shoti" – a driver who smuggles illicit goods from city to city in a souped-up sedan. He is 30 and he lives in a city in western Iran that he does not want to reveal.
 
'We fire up the engines and then we don’t stop'

We don’t travel alone. It’s safer to travel in a convoy, and you can carry more cargo. There are usually about eight or 10 cars. We use fake licence plates so the police can’t trace us.

There are rules: We fire up the engines and then we don’t stop. We never stop. We keep going until we reach our destination. Even if something happens to one of us, the others don’t stop.

A convoy of shotis.

We have a lead car that stays 5-10 minutes ahead of the convoy. The lead driver doesn’t carry any cargo; his job is to look out for police checkpoints. He gets the same pay as the others.

It takes about six hours for ordinary people to reach Tehran from our city, but we deliver loads in two and a half hours. That means hitting speeds above 200 kph.

I’ve been chased by the police a few times, but only for a few minutes. The police can’t keep up with us and give up. Also, there are too many of us to catch.

"If you pass the police driving that fast the police can do nothing". In this video, shoti with Afghan migrants on board pass a police checkpoint. They are going so fast the police don't even have time to react.

I have a smoke machine on my car, but I haven’t used it so far because I’ve never gotten into a chase where it would be useful. Smoke machines are more for when you’re driving more slowly and during the daytime.

'More risk means more pay'

Most shotis are like me: They have another job that is not enough. I know of three or four drivers who used to work in factories that went out of business. Some used to be farmers. One is a cab driver like me. We are mostly men between 25 and 40 years old. We have no women in our group, but I’ve heard of women working as shotis in other regions.

Sometimes we get a lot of work: I’ll go to Tehran two or three times a week. Sometimes it’s just twice a month. The pay depends on the cargo and the distance. I get about 500,000 toman (€40) for delivering ordinary things like smuggled dresses to a city that’s nearby, but 10 million toman (€750) for taking a load of mobile phones or alcohol to Tehran. Mobile phones are risky because if the police arrest you, there’s a huge fine. More risk means more pay.

A car packed with smuggled goods.

A shoti carrying alcoholic drinks.

Before I became a shoti, I earned about 800,000 toman a month [€61 euros]. Since I started a year ago I’ve never earned less than 1.5 million [115 euros] a month. On the other hand maintenance for our cars costs a lot. I have to change two tyres every three or four months, and do oil changes even more often.

Everyone in our city knows I work as a shoti, it is not a taboo at all. There are no jobs. I have no other option.

Under Iranian law, fines for smuggling depend on the value and nature of the goods, and range between two and 10 times the value of the cargo. Penalties can be as high as five years in prison if the value of the goods exceeds 100 million toman [€7,700]. If a defendant has a previous smuggling conviction, the judge can order the car to be confiscated.
 
'Cowards can’t work as shotis'

Cowards can’t work as shotis. When you drive at 200 kph, you can’t even see the road markings. You have to be a hell of a driver. It’s dangerous. That’s why we are paid so much – we risk our lives. In our Telegram groups, every week someone shares news of two or three shotis who have died somewhere in Iran. Each month there are four or five shoti accidents in our region alone.
A shoti car accident. The caption says, “Two friends, two brothers”. In the comments, users say that two friends in Baluchistan province near Afghanistan were smuggling fuel and were killed when their car crashed.

It’s true that after a while you get used to driving at insane speeds. You find it hard to drive slowly. But deep down I am afraid to my bones. I think it’s true for all of us, but we never talk about it among ourselves. Every time I go out, my fiancée cannot sleep. She stays awake waiting until I send her a message saying, “Safely arrived.” Sometimes on the road I see a vision of my own death and I tell myself it’s the last time. But when I check my bank account, and I see how much money I need to live a decent life. It’s the only option.

In this video, a shoti's car crashes while they are filming. They are driving over 200 kph.

The total number of shotis in Iran is unknown. In a rare official communication, police in southern Bushehr Province claimed to have temporarily impounded 7,500 shoti cars during the course of 2016, holding them for a week in each case. Enquiries for this article to Iran’s National Police were not immediately answered. We will publish their response if and when it arrives.

This video shows police chasing a shoti. At the 15 second mark a policeman says, "This shit can't go any faster!" At 0:27 and 0:29, another police officer fires two times at the car's back tyres and the shoti driver loses control. The police officers are shocked and say, "Oh my god!" as they watch the car in front of them. When the cars stop we can hear one of the officers order the others to arrest the shoti. When the police officer holding the camera reaches the shoti, he points his gun at him and tells him to get out of the car. The shoti complies.

In this video, the police confiscated a shoti's car that was loaded with alcohol. There are many fake licence plates inside the car as well.

This article was written by Ershad Alijani.