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Court Bans Vice President from Gov; Intel Ministry: CIA Spy Ring 'Smashed'

21 May 2011 22:30Comments

Press Roundup provides a selected summary of news from the Farsi and Arabic press and excerpts where the source is in English. Tehran Bureau has not verified these stories and does not vouch for their accuracy. Please refer to the Media Guide to help put the stories in perspective. You can follow breaking news stories on our Twitter feed.

Iran Daylight Time (IRDT), GMT+4:30

AhmjadBaghaeiMehr.jpg
President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and Vice President Hamid Baghaei.

9:30 p.m., 31 Ordibehesht/May 21 Our columnist Muhammad Sahimi compiled the following news items and commentary:

A court has banned Vice President Hamid Baghaei, one of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's closest confidants, from working for the government for four years. Baghaei was previously convicted of various legal violations committed when he was the head of the Organization for Cultural Heritage and Tourism (OCHT), but he ignored that verdict. As reported by Tehran Bureau (here, here, here, and here), Alef, the website published by conservative Majles deputy and Ahmadinejad critic Ahmad Tavakoli, has accused Baghaei of financial irregularities and publicized his intervention in arranging financing for a newly founded company in Tehran that has been granted a government construction contract worth 450 million euros.

In a press conference, Baghaei confirmed the court's verdict, but said that it is not final and that the case is in the appeals process. In addition, he said that he has not received any formal notification regarding the ban on his employment by the government. However, according to several conservative and hardline websites, Baghaei's conviction and penalty are final.

Baghaei also said that the verdict does not suggest that he has committed any offense, but refers only to his refusal to implement an old court order. By his account, when he was the head of the OCHT, the court ordered him to remove a historical monument from the national registry for historical places, an order with which he did not originally comply. He said that the order had, however, ultimately been executed and the court so notified. He also accused the court of damaging Iran's cultural heritage by issuing many orders for the removal of historical sites from the national registry. Once they are removed, the OCHT no longer has jurisdiction over them, and they can even be destroyed.

Meanwhile, the Ministry of Intelligence has issued a statement declaring that a CIA-controlled spy network has been discovered, in connection with which 30 people have been arrested. According to the ministry, the CIA tried to recruit Iranians by promising them visas to the United States, permanent residency, study opportunities, and jobs. The agency's recruiting stations were in Turkey, the United Arab Emirates, and Malaysia, according to the statement. The CIA sought information about Iran's research centers, nuclear energy program, and defense, aerospace, and biotechnology industries, as well as information about oil and gas pipelines, the electrical grid, and communication networks. The statement says that it was able to destroy the spy network because some of its participants were actually double agents and others were warned about being deceived about U.S. visas. As a result, not only has the spy network been smashed, reports the ministry, but 42 CIA officers have also been identified.

The timing of the two pieces of news seems to be related. Their coincidence may have to do with the ongoing power struggle between the supporters of Ahmadinejad and Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, in which the close aides and confidants of the former have been targeted by the latter. The struggle came to the surface last month with the resignation of Minister of Intelligence Heydar Moslehi, forced by Ahmadinejad, and his reinstatement by Khamenei. The Intelligence Ministry has been accused of incompetence on several fronts, and the announcement of the discovery of a spy network may be designed as a response to those accusations. Whether any of the 30 people that have supposedly been arrested will actually be revealed to the public, and whether the ministry "discovers" that one or more of them have links to the "perverted team" -- the name given by Khamenei's supporters to Esfandiar Rahim Mashaei, Ahmadinejad's chief of staff, and his inner circle -- remain to be seen.

Copyright © 2011 Tehran Bureau

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