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MP: 2m Iranians Abroad Getting Cash Handouts from Govt

09 May 2011 22:18Comments

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.

Our columnist Muhammad Sahimi compiled the following news items and commentary:

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Alef, a news website published by conservative Majles deputy and Ahmadinejad critic Ahmad Tavakoli, released more details of alleged financial irregularities by Samga, a company founded by a former aide to Esfandiar Rahim Mashaei, the president's chief of staff.

Alef published Samga's response to the allegations made in its previous report, which it followed with its own rebuttal. Samga denies that it has any relation with Mashaei and Hamid Baghaei, another close Ahmadinejad aide, and continues to maintain that all its transactions are legal.

The report also claims rampant nepotism in the office of the president, whose main beneficiary it says are Mashaei's nephews, Arah and Korosh Esfandiar Mashaei. Both have changed their last name to Kousha, possibly to hide the connection. Alef details the astonishingly rapid advancement and wealth accumulation of the two nephews since Mashaei joined Ahmadinejad in the Tehran mayor's office in 2002 and on through the presidency.

Tavakoli, who is also the head of the Majles Research Center, has put forth a long list of "gross mistakes" by the government in implementing the law eliminating subsidies. According to Tavakoli, the government was supposed to (1) gradually increase the price of oil, gasoline, and natural gas, but did not; (2) assign 30 percent of the resulting income to industrial units that would be hurt by the elimination of subsidies in order to prevent layoffs, but did not; (3) spend 20 percent of the income for the government's budget, but did not; (4) spent only 50 percent of the income as cash subsidies, but claimed that it had spent all of it for that purpose; (5) provide cash subsidies to each family proportional to income, but paid all families the same amount; (6) refrain from using any funds for any other purpose than cash handouts, but facing a shortfall, did; (7) and spend part of the income to pay for families' health insurance, but did not.

Meanwhile, Mohammad Javad Abtahi, a Majles deputy, revealed that two million Iranians living abroad receive cash handouts from the government. Majles Speaker Ali Larijani asked the government's representative whether this was true. He said he did not know. Larijani then announced that the matter would be investigated. Mohammad Reza Farzin, who heads the government's commission on the elimination of subsidies, said that about 72.5 million Iranians received cash handouts.

After much debate and a delay of several months, the annual budget for the current Iranian year was finally approved by the Majles. Of the 207 deputies present, 144 voted in favor of the budget, and 20 against it; the remaining MPs abstained.

Ahmadinejad presided over a cabinet meeting on Sunday, May 8, in which Intelligence Minister Heydar Moslehi was present.

Three of Ahmadinejad's most controversial ministers are reportedly leaving his cabinet: Sadegh Mahsoul -- often referred to as the "billionaire minister" -- who heads the Ministry of Welfare and Social Security; Alireza Mehrabian, Ahmadinejad's nephew and minister of industries and mines, who was convicted of stealing an invention and registering it under his own name; and Oil Minister Masoud Mir Kazemi, who has fired many veteran oil experts and replaced them with his own close aides, despite their complete lack of expertise. The three are reportedly leaving because their ministries are being merged with three others: welfare and social security with labor; oil with power, and industries and mines with commerce. Mehrabian's trip to China has been canceled.

The Majles has warned Ahmadinejad that he can not appoint any new ministers for the merged ministries without first introducing them to the Majles and asking for a vote of confidence.

Gholam-Hossein Mohseni Ejei, Iran's prosecutor-general, denied that Ahmadinejad's First Vice President Mohammad Reza Rahimi has been sentenced to prison for five years and a permanent ban on government employment. He did however confirm that several associates in the president's office have been arrested. He also also confirmed the arrest of several alleged exorcists supposedly close to Mashaei.

Ejei said that 40 people had been convicted in connection with the post-election attacks on the University of Tehran dormitory, which left several students dead.

Thirteen provincial governors-general have signed a letter declaring their support for Ahmadinejad and Mashaei. The statement says that a "deviant group" is trying to hurt the government, but makes clear that the "deviant group" is not the same as the "perverted group," which is how the hardliners refer to Mashaei and his inner circle. This new "deviant group" appears to be outside the government.

The news daily Javan, a Revolutionary Guard mouthpiece, today accused Ahmadinejad (without naming him) and his team of mounting a "permanent" challenge against Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. In his article, Jafar Takbiri wrote, "The perverted group of Principlists has mounted a permanent challenge [to the Supreme Leader] and created problems to make the situation murky and take advantage of the situation to attain their goals for the Ninth Majles elections [to be held in early March 2012] and the Tenth presidential election [in 2013]. But due to the wisdom of the Supreme Leader, the plan has become a means of eliminating the group.... Now that their plan has failed, they are trying to hide behind slogans in support of the Supreme Leader."

Saeed Naeimi, a member of the planning committee of the Organization of University Graduates (Advaar-e Tahkim-e Vahdat), was arrested during a raid of his home. He was reportedly badly beaten. Several other prominent members of the organization, including Dr. Ahmad Zeidabadi, Abdollah Momeni, Hassan Asadi Zeidabadi, and Ali Jamali, also remain in prison.

May 9 is the first anniversary of the execution of Kurdish activist and teacher Farzad Kamangar. Hashem Khastar, another teacher imprisoned in Mashhad, said that they will hold a candlelight vigil in jail to commemorate Kamangar. Khastar is a retired teacher in jail since 2009; he has never been granted a furlough. Kamangar and four other political prisoners were executed last May 9. Even after a year, their families do not know where they are buried.

Thousands of people in the provinces of West Azerbaijan and Kurdistan held gatherings near the homes of the families of the executed Kurdish political prisoners, including Kamangar, to mark the one-year anniversary. Nobel Laureate Shirin Ebadi issued a statement, commemorating the anniversary of the execution of Kamangar and suggesting naming May 9 "The Day of the Free Teacher." In her statement, Ebadi said, "I have met several times with his family and attorney, and I am a witness to his innocence."

32736f66dcb7c4e44892f13b105f25c6-300x225.jpgImprisoned journalist Mehdi Mahmoudian has written a letter to Khamenei in which he describes the crimes that are happening in three major prisons in and around Tehran. He played a leading role in revealing the crimes that occurred in 2009 in the Kahrizak detention center on the southern edge of Tehran, in which young prisoners were raped, tortured, and at least four murdered. The letter was actually written last September, but Rah-e Sabz, the pro-Green Movement website, has publicized it for the first time. Mahmoudian writes,

In Rajaei Shahr Prison, anal rape is completely normal. Not only do the prison officials not do anything to prevent it, but in fact get bribes from certain prisoners in order to allow them to rape other young prisoners. They "sell" them to different people in various wards, and transfer them from ward to ward. In another prison, an inmate was released after he agreed with others [presumably linked with prison officials] to have sex with him. Beating of prisoners is completely normal. Dogs trained to detect narcotics are used to attack the prisoners and injure them. AIDS and hepatitis are spreading. Many are addicted to narcotics. Political prisoners are treated terribly, and interrogated cruelly. They use some of the worst profane words against them. They are ordered to take their clothes off in order to humiliate them.

Ahmadinejad is currently in Turkey to participate in the Fourth United Nations Conference on the Least Developed Countries. In his meeting with UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon (pictured on homepage), met with U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, he said, "No country can impose its values on other nations."

In his first press conference as Egypt's foreign minister, Nabil El-Araby stated that Egypt wants to resume direct relations with Iran. El-Araby stated that "Iran is an important country and we have a historical relationship with them." Fars also quoted El-Araby as declaring Egypt is ready to turn "a new page with Iran" and emphasizing that Egypt does not view Iran as an enemy state.

Al-Arabiya, the website and news agency that reflects the views of Saudi Arabia, quoted an Israeli news agency that said that former Deputy Minister of Defense Alireza Asgari is in an Israeli jail. As previously reported here, based on a blog post by Richard Silverstein, Asgari was in an Israeli jail, but the report was denied at the time. Al-Arabiya now says that Asgari has been in prison in Israel since his December 2006 disappearance in Istanbul, Turkey.

Copyright © 2011 Tehran Bureau

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