Al-Qaeda Mocks 9/11 Conspiracy Claims; Axed Bank Chief Takes Flight
29 Sep 2011 17:55
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 Standard Time (IRST), GMT+3:3011:40 p.m., 7 Mehr/September 29 The following items were compiled by our columnist Muhammad Sahimi:
Abdol Reza Rahmani (pictured), head of the Supreme Audit Court, took part in a meeting of the Majles Energy Commission, where he painted a bleak picture of Iran's energy industry. According to his report, oil production has decreased by 120,000 barrels a day, while the oil and natural gas sector does not have a comprehensive strategy for the future. Rahmani added that the Central Bank violated the law when it forced the Ministry of Oil to continue exporting oil to India while India was deeply in arrears for previous oil purchases. The Energy Commission declared that the violation will be reported to the judiciary for prosecution. Rahmani noted that the Ministry of Power owes the private sector close to $14 billion, and that its policies are driving many private companies to bankruptcy. A large share of the ministry's earnings has been used to pay the cash handouts in lieu of the subsidies on food and energy that have been slashed; an additional $2.9 billion from oil earnings has been used for the same purpose. The report also stated that some of the earnings from oil exports have been deposited in foreign bank accounts, in violation of the laws, with another $610 million not deposited in the national treasury.5:55 p.m., 7 Mehr/September 29 Our columnist Muhammad Sahimi compiled the following news items and commentary:
At a seminar in Tehran, three leading oil and energy experts warned that Iran's oil industry is in ruins. Present in the seminar were Dr. Hadi Nejad Hossenian, a former deputy minister of oil; Gholam Hossein Nozari, who was minister of oil in the Ahmadinejad administration for 18 months, and Gholam Hossein Hassan Tash, a well-known energy analyst. The three recounted how from the moment that the Ahmadinejad administration came to power in 2005, the president spoke about an "Oil Mafia." Not only was no such cabal ever identified, at least 300 oil and natural gas experts have either left the Oil Ministry or been forced to retire. Nejad Hosseinian pointed out that during the Khatami administration, major foreign oil firms were opposed to sanctions against Iran and work with the country, whereas during the Ahmadinejad administration the foreign firms have left Iran's market one by one. Nozari said that he was criticized as oil minister because he sought to make wholesale changes in the ministry that ultimately led to his firing, while Hassan Tash said that the Ahmadinejad administration moved to expel all high-ranking officials in the ministry who served during the Rafsanjani and Khatami administrations. The cumulative result has been the drastic reduction in oil production and disappearance of foreign investment.
In contrast, Seyyed Mohsen Ghamsari, manager of international relations for the National Iranian Oil Company, claimed that Iran's oil exports to Turkey, Spain, and Italy have increased. He said that Iran is trying to take most of the Turkish market, but is competing with Saudi Arabia, and that regarding oil exports to other countries on the Mediterranean Sea, Russia is Iran's most important competitor.
Over 1.6 million families have refused to pay their monthly natural gas bills. Seyyed Emad Hosseini, spokesman for the Majles Energy Commission, said that the rampant nonpayments have put the government into deficit, which he predicted will last through the rest of the Iranian year, which ends next March 20. Whether the refusal to pay is a sign of a growing civil disobedience movement, or merely an economic protest, is not yet clear.
Minister of Oil Rostam Ghasemi, a brigadier general in the Revolutionary Guards, has been removed from several foreign lists of sanctioned Iranian officials, enabling him to travel widely as president of the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC). According to Mehr News Agency, this is the result of efforts by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Ghasemi was sanctioned by the United Nations Security Council when he served as chief of Khatam ol-Anbiya, the Guards' engineering arm.
When Mahmoud Ahmadinejad spoke at the United Nations General Assembly last week, he repeated his claims about the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks on the United States and, as usual, cast doubts on the official version of events, expressing his belief that the World Trade Center towers could not have been brought down by aircraft. This time, however, al-Qaeda reacted angrily to Ahmadinejad's conspiracy theory. Inspire, an online magazine linked to the group, described Ahmadinejad's speech to the United Nations, which prompted a walkout by many diplomats, as "ridiculous." It declared that his position "stands in the face of all logic and evidence" and called Iran "a collaborator with the U.S. when it suits it."
The controversy over the embezzlement of nearly $3 billion continued. Mohammad Jahromi, who was fired on Tuesday from his post as chief of Bank Saderat, issued a strongly worded statement in which he criticized Mahmoud Reza Khavari, former chief of Bank Melli. Jahromi claimed that Khavari has left Iran and gone to Canada where his family lives, and that he had been appointed as the Bank Melli chief, even though the government knew that he is a Canadian resident. He also said that the embezzlement, which began in a branch of Bank Saderat in Ahvaz, the provincial capital of Khuzestan, began in 2009 before he was appointed to head Bank Saderat. He accused the "prime supporters" of the culprits of misleading the nation by speaking about the embezzlement as if it had occurred only in Bank Saderat, though other institutions, notably Bank Melli and Bank Saman, were also involved.
Jahromi himself has a long history of fraud. His true name is Ali Naghi Jahromi. In the early 1990s, at the age of 40, he discovered that he is a seyyed (direct descendent of the Prophet Muhammad). He consequently changed his name to Seyyed Mohammad, for which he was mocked by the reformists during the presidency of Mohammad Khatami. A few years ago, he also suddenly became "Dr. Seyyed Mohammad Jahromi," although it is still not clear where he received his doctorate from. Son-in-law of the influential cleric and former Majles Speaker Ali Akbar Nategh Noori, who is currently the head of the Office of Inspection of Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, before joining Bank Saderat he was the governor-general of several provinces, including Fars, Semnan, Zanjan, and Lorestan. When he was a governor-general, he referred to himself as "Mohandes Seyyed Mohammad Jahromi" (like Dr., mohandes, meaning engineer, is used in Iran as a title). He also developed a reputation for illegally trafficking in ancient artifacts. After Ahmadinejad was elected president in 2005, Jahromi was appointed minister of labor and social affairs. It is widely believed that he was the "brain" behind an early economic plan of the Ahmadinejad administration, in which loans with extremely low interest rates were provided to people, supposedly unemployed, who would propose projects that would quickly produced results and employment. Billions of dollars were spent, yielding nothing significant, though it is believed that the plan made many in the the president's inner circle, including Jahromi, fabulously wealthy via payouts in the names of the dead. The government has acknowledged that close to five million birth certificates of dead people are still in circulation. Jahromi also played a key role in abolishing the Organization for Planning and Budget, and transferring its authority to the office of the president.
The hardliners opposed to Ahmadinejad have been trying to establish a link between the culprits in the embezzlement case and the administration. In the latest of these efforts, and after Khavari left for Canada, Mashregh News, a website close to the security forces, published a copy of the order for his appointment of Khavari as the chief of Bank Melli. The order was signed by Esfandiar Rahim Mashaei, Ahmadinejad's chief of staff and close confidant, who is considered by the hardliners as the leader of the "perverted group."
Reacting to Khavari's departure, Gholam Hossein Mohseni Ejei, the special prosecutor overseeing the investigation of the embezzlement case, said, "It is in Khavari's interest to return to Iran." When asked by reporters whether Khavari has permanently fled Iran or will return soon, Ejei said, "I do not know whether Mr. Khavari has escaped or left [normally]. What I do know is that Mr. Khavari sent his letter of resignation from abroad and in a second letter has said that he will soon see his friends." Ejei added that Khavari's return flight is scheduled for Friday, and that he had not been barred from leaving Iran.
When asked whether he had any information about Khavari moving to Canada, Mahmoud Bahmani, the governor of the Central Bank, said that he knew nothing about it.
Fars, the news agency that is run by the intelligence unit of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, speculated that the decision to sack several banking officials was made a few weeks ago in a "government think tank." Quoting an "informed official," Fars said that before the trip to New York by Ahmadinejad and his close circle, a Majles deputy visited a member of his cabinet and informed him of a plan by some deputies to impeach Minister of Economic and Financial Affairs Seyyed Shamseddin Hosseini. "It was then that it was decided to force an important person [Khavari] in the embezzlement to resign," Fars reported, adding that a letter of resignation was even sent to Khavari to sign, but he refused at the time.
Mehdi Fattahi has been appointed the chief of Bank Saderat. He was previously chairman of the bank's board of directors and deputy chief for credit.
In a counterattack, Ali Akbar Javanfekr, head of IRNA, Iran's official news agency, which publishes the pro-Ahmadinejad newspaper Iran, said in an editorial that the administration has no responsibility toward the embezzlement, and it is the Majles and the judiciary that should take the responsibility. He claimed that if the Majles, as well as the judiciary and its government oversight agencies, such as the National Organization for Inspection and the Supreme Audit Court, had done their job, the embezzlement would not have occurred. Javanfekr opined that the Majles's frequent interventions in the executive branch's affairs distract the parliament from its main tasks.
Several Majles deputies warned that other large embezzlement cases may happen soon. One deputy, Jafar Ghaderi, said that the root cause of the problem is loopholes in the banking regulations. Another, Ezatollah Yousefian Ala, said that the problem is with a corrupted banking system. A third, Hamid Reza Fooladgar, who is a member of the parliament's Article 44 Commission, which oversees the privatization of Iran's industries, said that the main problem is the financial system's general lack of strict internal controls.***
The president continues to be criticized for the size of the entourage that accompanied him to New York. Alef, the website published by Majles deputy and Ahmadinejad critic Ahmad Tavakoli, featured a list of the president's family members who made the trip. It includes his wife; his son, Mehdi; Mehdi's wife, Tayyebeh, daughter of Ahmadinejad's chief of staff, Esfandiar Rahim Mashaei; Ahmadinejad's daughter, Fatemeh; her husband, Mehdi Khorshidi; and their daughter, Fatemeh. In addition, Rahim Mashaei was accompanied by his wife, as were Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Salehi and Vice President Hamid Baghaei, who also brought along his son. Two whole floors of the Warwick Hotel were occupied by the Iranian delegation. An item in Ayandeh News, a website close to Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, asked, "If Hashemi and [Mohammad] Khatami had taken their daughter-in-law and grandchildren to New York, how would [hardline daily] Kayhan have reacted?" The office of the president has denied Alef's report.
Judiciary chief Sadegh Larijani said that there is a war between the judiciary and "those who do not want us to investigate cases of economic corruption." Without naming anyone, Larijani said, "There are those who create problems for our work, but the judiciary will continue its war [on economic corruption]." He added, "The judiciary has been investigating the [multibillion-dollar] embezzlement [case] for 50 days, and if it had not taken any action, no one would have." Larijani also said that the administration's promise to release a list of financially corrupt people was "propaganda."
Defense Minister Brigadier General Ahmad Vahidi said that there is no plan to establish a hotline between the Iranian military and the Pentagon. As reported by Tehran Bureau, there were several reports last week that the Obama administration is studying the possibility of establishing a hotline between the two countries' armed forces, akin to what existed with the Soviet Union during the Cold War, in order to prevent accidents in the Persian Gulf and Sea of Oman that might lead to a wider conflict.
Over the past 80 days alone, more than 1,000 elite university students have left Iran to pursue their education elsewhere. The United States, Canada, Britain, Australia, Germany, Malaysia, and Italy are the leading destinations.
After Josh Fattal, Shane Bauer, and Sarah Shroud, the three American hikers who were imprisoned in Iran, strongly criticized the Islamic Republic in a New York press conference, their Iranian attorney, Masoud Shafiei, was summoned to Evin Prison and interrogated for several hours. Shafiei said that although the security agents treated him "respectfully," the very action of taking him to Evin, as well as inspecting his apartment and office and taking his personal belongings, were all illegal.
Blogger Hossein Ronaghi Maleki has been imprisoned for 650 days without a single furlough. Reports indicate that he is in extremely poor health, and although doctors have recommended he be hospitalized, the prison officials refuse to allow it. He was arrested on December 16, 2009, in Malekan near Tabriz, in East Azerbaijan province. He has been sentenced to 15 yeas of incarceration.
Reports also indicate that Abdollah Momeni, the imprisoned teacher, university activist, and spokesman for the Organization of University Graduates, has been taken to a hospital by security agents for a medical examination. As reported by Tehran Bureau, Momeni's ears have been severely injured due to the torture he has suffered in jail. His hearing loss in one ear is near total.
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