Mehdi Hashemi and the British Devil
by HANA H. in Tehran
22 May 2010 02:48
Ever since Mahmoud Ahmadinejad accused the Rafsanjani clan of corruption in last year's presidential debates, the pressure has been mounting on the family of the powerful head of the Expediency Council and Assembly of Experts.
Ayatollah Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani was long at the very heart of the Islamic Republic's power structure. He played a central role in the installation of Ayatollah Seyyed Ali Khamenei as Iran's lifelong leader. But when he refused to side with the establishment after the post-election unrest and, in a Friday Prayers sermon, voiced support for the opposition and called for the immediate release of political prisoners, he became a target. A comprehensive effort began to isolate and forever banish him from the axis of power.
Directly taking out Rafsanjani, one of the founders of the Revolution, was a feat many had tried and failed at miserably. The new campaign was thus directed at his children. Mehdi Hashemi, the youngest, became the prime quarry. On August 25, 2009, during the fourth session of the "velvet coup" trials, Reformist journalist Masoud Bastani claimed that Hashemi had directed the Jomhouriat website to subvert the first Ahmadinejad administration. "Attacking the four-year performance of the government and undermining the country's legal institutions, alleging vote fraud, and creating sensitivity were among our guidelines," he claimed.
Adding to the laundry list of crimes, Hamzeh Karami, Jomhouriat's managing director, alleged that Hashemi had laundered money, forged documents, and illegally used public property during the election. He was also accused of embezzling $2 million from the assets of the Iranian Fuel Conservation Organization, which he once headed. Less than a week later, Mehdi Hashemi departed for Great Britain.
It was initially announced that he had gone there to visit the British branches of the Islamic Azad University, whose creation and overseas expansion Ayatollah Rafsanjani has been instrumental in supporting. But when Hashemi's trip began to look open-ended,
Hamid Rasaie, a Tehran Majles representative, questioned its length and nature. Speaking on November 13, he asked, "How many branches does the Islamic Azad University have in England for it to require Mehdi Hashemi to stay there for three months? What has Mehdi Hashemi been doing in the UK throughout this time?" Speculation grew concerning whether Hashemi had any intention of returning to Iran. Principlist websites claimed that he was in fact on the run from the law and would not dare to come back.
On December 5, in a meeting with the members of the Student Islamic Society, Ayatollah Rafsanjani explained, "Mehdi would like to return to the country, but I've advised him to get his Ph.D." When asked why his son had not yet returned to the country, Rafsanjani stated, "Mehdi will not return to Iran after inaugurating the London branch of Azad University. He is now in Lebanon and from there he will travel to Dubai, Armenia, and Tajikistan to inaugurate the Azad University branches there."
Meanwhile, though Tehran prosecutor Abbas Jafari Dolatabadi was said to be "in no rush for Mehdi's return," Prosecutor General Gholam-Hossein Mohseni Ejei wanted him "summoned and his case investigated." In a December 8 press conference, he declared that if Mehdi Hashemi was "found guilty, he should be punished without any mercy."
Fars News Agency, which acts as a semiofficial government mouthpiece, elicited an opinion on the case from a legal expert, Mehdi Jouyayi. He suggested that if an arrest warrant was issued for an Iranian citizen overseas who refused to turn himself in, Interpol could be asked to intervene: "Even if Mehdi Hashemi is abroad, he must be arrested with the help of Interpol agents or the police or security officers of the country he has fled to and be turned over to the Iran's prosecutor."
On March 2, the Revolutionary Guards' website, Javan, claimed that Hashemi had asked close friends and relatives to lobby for the charges against him to be dropped so that he can return to the country. Four days later, Principlist lawmaker Elias Naderan, who has earned a reputation for taking out corrupt politicians from across the ideological spectrum, told Fars News Agency that the difference between Hashemi and those criminals currently in prison was that the latter "were not related to the higher ups."
Naderan rejected the notion that the pursuit of higher education had kept Mehdi in London. "Getting a doctorate does not contradict standing trial and being held answerable to the people," he said. Questioning the performance of Ayatollah Sadegh Larijani, chief of the judiciary, for his procrastination in bringing the Rafsanjani children to justice, Naderan said Mehdi could be and should be extradited.
Faezeh Hashemi's son Mohsen Lahouti, apparently on his way to Kish Island to unite with the rest of the Rafsanjani clan for the New Year holidays, was arrested on March 21 at Imam Khomeini International Airport upon arrival from London. Many believe that he had been used to test the waters and see if it was safe for Mehdi to return.
Tehran Prosecutor Dolatabadi underscored that it was not safe for Mehdi to come back when he revealed not only that Ayatollah Larijani had issued an arrest warrant for him but that they had been anticipating his return. "We received different reports that Mehdi Hashemi intended to return to the country during the Nowruz holiday and we therefore told Kish and Tehran airport security to be on the lookout and hand him over to the prosecutor's office if Mehdi Hashemi returns to Iran," Dolatabadi said on April 16.
Hashemi's lawyer Mahmoud Alizadeh Tabatabaei responded to Dolatabadi's comments by confirming that his client had been summoned to Branch 4 of the Inquisition Office as an "informed source" and that he had discovered that the branch "had just been established in Evin Prison." Tabatabaei rejected the idea that Hashemi was unwilling to return to Iran and said his client was simply studying abroad. "If his return to Iran is necessary, they must officially inform me," he asserted, "and I will give them his current address so that the notice can be sent to him and he can prepare to return within the legal period he has."
Mehdi finally broke his silence on April 21 and reacted to the months-long smear campaign that had been going on in his absence. "Take into consideration that such rumors are flying around at a time when no court has passed a verdict," he said. "I have not offered any explanation and this shows a certain political faction's attempts to pressure the judiciary and use this instrument of justice to further their objectives. More interestingly, they believe that their actions are in line with strengthening the establishment and the leadership." He called on the judiciary to stop the "mudslinging, which tarnishes the reputation of our judicial system, and to consider the day when I lose patience and go public with the information I have."
The information Hashemi threatened to go public with was believed to be related to corruption allegations against Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's first VP, Mohammad Reza Rahimi.
Rahimi, the head of the government's anti-corruption taskforce, was accused by lawmaker Elias Naderan on April 6 of having been the kingpin of the Fatemi Street corruption network.
However, in Iran, the widespread corruption of the first deputy of a president, who has successfully run twice for office on the slogan of fighting corruption, does not bring it down or even prompt it to back down. The establishment remained unyielding.
In fact, on April 22 Principlist lawmaker Rasaei compared Hashemi to two notorious figures while issuing a counterthreat: "Mehdi Hashemi will neither return on his own accord nor if Mr. Rafsanjani asks him to return to Iran. We must return him to the country like Abdolmalek Rigi and Shahram Jazayeri."
When the power struggle between the Rafsanjani clan and the Principlists failed to produce a winner, it was time to employ a different tactic.
This required IRGC intervention. First, Jahan News made the "shocking revelation" that 400 children of Islamic Republic officials are studying at British universities. Then, right on cue, a voice within Parliament rose to question the wisdom of allowing the British to educate the future politicians of the country.
Mohammad Mehdi Shahriari, a member of the Majles National Security and Foreign Policy Commission, said it was unwise to allow the British to educate the future politicians of the country, "given Britain's record in keeping close tabs on Iranians and that Britain tries to use people such as the children of officials for its objectives."
In the Islamic Republic, anyone can get away with anything so long as the British are there to take the blame. For some, Hashemi's actions should be interpreted only in one way: He is a British spy and has defected to the country that attempted to stage a velvet coup in Iran.
Relations between Iran and Britain have long been strained, and the Islamic Republic has been in the habit of pinning the blame for anything that goes wrong in the country on the British. In response to last year's election results, British officials made a series of comments that Tehran interpreted as meddling in its internal affairs. Iran retaliated by expelling the BBC's Tehran correspondent as well as arresting a British-Greek journalist, nine British embassy employees, and a number of other British passport holders said to have been involved in rioting.
In February, President Ahmadinejad said that Iran was left with no choice but to limit relations with Britain due to its unwelcome intrusions. Lawmaker Parviz Sarvari told Fars News Agency, "The nation's tolerance for Britain's hidden and apparent policy of interference is over. The Iranian nation and its parliament could no longer tolerate this behavior." He declared that "there would be a crushing response by Iran."
Using the British as the face of "the enemy," who is constantly conspiring to lead Islamic Republic officials astray and force them into defection has repeatedly proven an effective tool in diverting attention and restoring the balance of power. Expect more of the same.
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