Video: 200 kmh in a souped-up Peugeot – the secret world of Iran’s smugglers

. © Observers

They call themselves “shootis”, posting hundreds of Instagram videos of tuned-up engines, zooming past police checkpoints at 200 kmh, and crashing at high speed.


They are just one of the types of smugglers who keep Iran’s economy going. With an estimated 36.5% of the country’s economy in what’s called the “informal” sector, a large proportion of the consumer products Iranians buy has been smuggled into the country. This includes not just goods the Islamic Republic has banned such as alcohol, but also electronic goods, household appliances, cigarettes, car parts, clothing and body-building supplements. 

The “shootis” transport goods from city to city within Iran, often in Peugeots or Citroens that were manufactured under license in Iran for years. To carry the heavy loads at high speeds, they tune the engines and beef up the suspensions. They travel in convoys and deploy evasive measures like smoke machines and tyre spikes to outrun the police. 

"The gadgets work when the police come across you at random – at a checkpoint for example,” one of the smugglers told the FRANCE 24 Observers. “But if the police have organised a big operation, the gadgets won’t work. They’ll have other cars supporting them – and sometimes even helicopters. There’s no way you can get away.”

The “shootis” conceal their identity online and seldom talk to journalists. The FRANCE 24 Observers team contacted three of the smugglers and followed their progress over the course of three years. They shared secrets of how they travel in convoys.

The Observers team also interviewed two other types of smugglers: “kulbars," ethnic Kurds who carry loads of up to 70 kilos on their backs across the mountains from neighbouring Iraqi Kurdistan, and “soukhtbars,” who transport loads of diesel through the desert to Pakistan.

Living in remote, underdeveloped regions devastated by drought and often neglected by the government in Tehran, the kulbars and soukhtbars told the FRANCE 24 Observers that smuggling is the only way they can support their families. “We get about 500,000 toman [15 €] per trip,” one of the kulbars said. “I earned 32 million toman [1000 €] last year. It’s not much when you have a family of four.”