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Chief of Iran's Largest Bank Sacked; New Charges of Missing Oil Revenue

28 Sep 2011 01:15Comments

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+3:30

9 p.m., 6 Mehr/September 28 Iran's Press TV is reporting that Mahmoud Reza Khavari, the head of Bank Melli, fled to Canada after resigning for his alleged role in the embezzlement scandal. (See below for background on the story.)

As reported by the New York Times' Lede blog al-Qaeda had a message for Ahmadinejad: enough with the conspiracy theories about September 11.

"The Iranian government has professed on the tongue of its president Ahmadinejad that it does not believe Al Qaeda was behind 9/11 but rather, the U.S. government," read an article in the magazine published under the byline Abu Suhail. "So we may ask the question: why would Iran ascribe to such a ridiculous belief that stands in the face of all logic and evidence?"
KhavariPortrait.jpg1:15 a.m., 6 Mehr/September 28 Our columnist Muhammad Sahimi compiled the following news items and commentary:
The Ministry of Economic and Financial Affairs announced that several senior banking officials have been sacked in the wake of the embezzlement of close to $3 billion. According to the statement by the ministry's public relations office, Mahmoud Reza Khavari (pictured), chief operating officer of Bank Melli -- Iran's largest bank -- and Farzad Ahmadi, a member of the bank's board of directors, have been fired. The Central Bank will fire the presidents of the privately owned Bank Saderat -- Mohammad Jahromi -- and Bank Saman -- Valli-ollah Zarabieh. A Saderat branch in Ahvaz in Khuzestan province was where the embezzlement scheme was hatched, and Saman apparently also played an important role in the operation.

Mehr, the news agency run by the Organization for Islamic Propaganda, reported that Khavari actually resigned. According to Mehr, in his resignation letter Khavari apologized to Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and the Iranian people, and his resignation was immediately accepted by Minister of Economic and Financial Affairs Seyyed Shamseddin Hosseini,. Mehr also reports that Jahromi has refused to resign and will, therefore, be sacked. He is considered one of the Ahmadinejad administration's chief economic architects.

Majles deputy Aziz Akbarian said that more than 20 legislators support Hosseini's impeachment. In addition to the embezzlement, the deputies have raised other cases of corruption against him.

Tehran's newspapers continued to criticize the prevalence of government corruption. Hamshahri and Tehran-e Emrooz, both close to Tehran Mayor Mohammad Bagher Ghalibaf, rejected the assertion by the pro-Ahmadinejad Iran that the "perverted group" -- Esfandiar Rahim Mashaei, the president's chief of staff and close confidant, and his inner circle -- abused the Tehran stock market and municipal offices. Hamshahri mocked Ahmadinejad's slogan that his administration is the purest, most uncorupt in Iran's history, given the size of the embezzlement. Tehran-e Emrooz published an interview with Abbas-Ali Nourara, member of the Majles Budget and Planning Commission, in which he suggested that several cabinet ministers must resign because of the embezzlement. The reformist Shargh criticized Prosecutor-General Gholam Hossein Mohseni Ejei, appointed special prosecutor for the embezzlement case, for not disclosing the true amount that was stolen or specifying the charges that will be brought against the culprits.

Seyyed Emad Hosseini, spokesman for the Majles Energy Commission, said that $11.2 billion in oil export revenue is missing, and the administration has violated the laws by not depositing it in the special account earmarked for that purpose.

Hosseini also said that the administration's claim that Iran has achieved self-sufficiency in gasoline production is false. He said, "The calculus is simple. Forty-four million liters of gasoline is produced in the country every day, whereas the daily consumption of 65 million liters. Where does the difference come from? Do we draw from our strategic reserves? I doubt that that is the case, and I do not even believe that the strategic reserves can provide that much gasoline."

The Majles special commission that monitors the elimination and reduction of the subsidies on food and energy items reported that the administration has violated the law in a dozen cases. For example, the subsidy cuts were implemented far more rapidly than the five-year period that was legally mandated. In another violation, the government was supposed to deposit all the revenue from the law's implementation into a special treasury account, but has not done so. According to the commission's report, by the end of the current Iranian year -- March 20, 2012 -- the government will have lost about $15 billion as a result of paying cash handouts in lieu of the subsidies.

Reformist cleric and Majles deputy Ghodratollah Alikhani said in a speech to parliament that the Ahmadinejad administration has been the worst since the 1979 Revolution. In addition to the embezzlement case, he focused on rampant unemployment and said that the government's job creation statistics are fabricated. Responding to Ahmadinejad's claim that "my administration is one of the best and most law-abiding governments," Alikhani said, "As a matter of fact your government is one of the worst."

In an interview with the Lebanese newspaper Daily Star, which is close to the March 14 coalition that opposes the Lebanese Hezbollah, cleric Jafar Shojouni, member of the conservative Society of Militant Clerics of Tehran and a former Ahmadinejad supporter, discussed several important issues. Shohouni said that Hezbollah leader Sheikh Hassan Nasrallah told him that if Israel attacks Iran, his group will raze Tel Aviv. "I am a cadet of Ayatollah Khamenei's school. If Israelis come near Tehran, we will destroy Tel Aviv," Shojouni quoted Nasrallah as saying. Regarding Iran's relations with Syria, Shojouni said, "In the Iranian overview, Syria is on the front line against the Israelis, and even Hezbollah in this case is connected with us through Syria.... We agree with any kind of protests or internal reform aimed at improving the situation of the people. [But] our goal is that Zionists not use these protests as a way to inflict damage on Hezbollah and Syria's resistance. Syria is not Libya. In Libya, oppression led to an awakening of the people, but in Syria, Israelis and Americans have made this problem in the name of the people.... I think they wish to open the door of Syria with NATO forces. Of course, Iran won't allow this to happen."

On the subject of Iranian politics, Shojouni admitted that support for Ahmadinejad has waned significantly. He added, however, that there was a consensus among senior religious leaders in the Islamic Republic to keep him in office until his term expires. Shojouni also said that the dissatisfaction stemmed not primarily from the president himself, but rather from the "perverted group" around him, individuals whom he compared to "porcupines." In particular, he named Mashaei, whom he called a "Malijak," or court jester, saying, "This head of [the president's] office is saying things that are not related to his job or his knowledge at all. He is saying things about the teachings of the Prophet, correcting problems with Israelis, the Persian model, Cyrus the Great, Iranian ideology, and lots of other things -- he only seeks controversy and tension." He added that Mashaei's behavior was "damaging the dignity of Ahmadinejad.... We can't understand why he keeps this Malijak. Our heart is pained for this reason."

At the same time, Mohammad Jafar Behdad, the president's deputy chief of staff for political affairs, said that Ahmadinejad will soon begin revealing information about his "revengeful" critics. In an interview with Iran, Behdad said that the revelations will come when "the interests of the state allow them," and that the revelations "will terrify some; due to the anger of the society they will not be safe even in their own safe houses. Now it is time for smart and skillful silence."

The Majles is considering legislation that will limit deputies' freedom to speak out and criticize. The bill was proposed after Ayatollah Ali Khamenei suggested last year that the parliament apply greater oversight to its own deputies. According to the bill, if a deputy violates the laws -- although it does not stipulate which laws -- he or she may be subject to a range of punishments, from a private oral warning to a publicly recorded written warning, all the way to expulsion. Several deputies, including Ali Motahari, have protested the legislation and threatened to resign if it is approved. They say that the proposed law violates the Constitution, particularly Articles 84 and 86, which allow a deputy to freely express his opinion about all aspects of the state.

***

In an open letter, two Nobel Peace Prize laureates, Archbishop Desmond Tutu and José Ramos-Horta, rebuked the Iranian government over its treatment of the Baha'is, whose religion is not recognized by Islam. Criticizing the Islamic Republic for not allowing adherents of the Baha'i faith to study in Iranian universities, they wrote,

It is particularly shocking when despots and dictators in the twenty-first century attempt to subjugate their own populations by attempting to deny education or information to their people. Not only is it futile in the long term, it makes them appear fearful of the very age they live in, and haunted by the new thinkers in their midst. Perhaps the most glaring example of this fear today is the denial of higher education to the members of the Baha'i faith in Iran -- a peaceful religion with no political agenda, which recognizes the unity of all religions.

In 1987, after being barred by their government from Iranian universities because of their faith, the resourceful Baha'i community in Iran organized the Baha'i Institute for Higher Learning, a decentralized network of teachers delivering college-level classes in kitchens and living rooms across Iran. Baha'i professors and administrators who had also been banned from their universities for their faith were joined by courageous Muslim academics who would risk their careers and even imprisonment to support the network and teach the youth.

Taught by accredited professors, the quality of the coursework has been recognized and accepted for credit by more than fifty universities outside of Iran, allowing the BIHE students to continue with graduate work abroad. This creative solution has lifted the lives of thousands of Baha'i students who would otherwise have been denied meaningful careers.

On May 21, 2011, the BIHE came under attack when Iranian officials raided thirty Baha'i homes and arrested over a dozen of its teachers and administrators. Those arrested were neither political nor religious leaders. They were lecturers in subjects that included accounting and dentistry, who today face the prospect of decades in prison. The crime with which they are charged -- delivering higher education to Baha'i youth.

The suppression of education in Iran is not limited to those of the Baha'i faith. Other Iranian youth have been expelled from universities for their beliefs or for holding viewpoints determined to be counter to the ruling party, including pro-reform views. Iranian officials have forbidden new delivery of and are in the process of rewriting the course content of twelve social sciences on the university curricula -- including law, philosophy, management and political science -- to make them more closely align with their own interpretation of the Islamic faith. They have stated that up to 70% of the course content in the social science will be rewritten by government officials.

We believe it is important to recognize that these actions are neither the result of or dictated by the Islamic faith. One need only look at the Dark Ages of Europe or the Spanish Inquisition to see that Iranian Ayatollahs are certainly not the first to use religion as the cloak to attempt to forcibly suppress ideas and knowledge that they fear could threaten their power.

***

The World Health Organization has ranked the city of Ahvaz, the provincial capital of Khuzestan in southwest Iran, as the world's most polluted city. The "distinction" was given to Ahvaz on the basis that it has the highest measured level of airborne particles smaller than ten micrometers. WHO's list of polluted cities highlights the need to reduce outdoor air pollution, which is estimated to cause 1.34 million premature deaths annually around the world. The list relies on country-reported data over the past several years, and measures the levels of airborne particles smaller than ten micrometers -- PM10s. WHO recommends an upper limit of 20 micrograms for PM10s, which can cause serious respiratory problems in humans. Ahvaz's annual average of PM10s was 372 micrograms per cubic meter.

Deputy Majles Speaker Mohammad Reza Bahonar, who also serves as secretary-general of the Islamic Society of Engineers, said that the 7+8 Committee tasked with drawing up a list of candidates for the Majles elections next March has unanimously elected former Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Velayati as its spokesman. The fact that Velayati is also a senior adviser to Khamenei indicates that the ayatollah wants control of the conservative camp for the elections.

The name of the 7+8 Committee refers to the body's composition. The group of seven consists of Velayati; Habibollah Asgar Oladi of the Islamic Coalition Party; Gholam Ali Haddad Adel, head of the Majles Culture Commission and father-in-law of Khamenei's son Mojtaba; Seyyed Hashem Hosseini Bushehri, Friday Prayer Imam of Qom and Assembly of Experts member; Abbas Kabi, member of the Guardian Council; Deputy Majles Speaker Mohammad Hassan Aboutorabi Fard; and Reza Taghavi, a cleric who is the head of policy for the Friday Prayer Imams. The group of eight consists of hardline Majles deputies Hossein Fadaei and Ali Reza Zakani, who represent organizations composed of former Revolutionary Guard and Basij commanders; Bahonar and former Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki, who represent the Front of Followers of the Imam and Leader, a conservative coalition; Majles deputy Kazem Jalali, who represents Speaker Ali Larijani; Seyyed Mehdi Khamooshi, who represents Tehran Mayor Ghalibaf; and Ali Asghar Zarei and Kamran Lankarani, who represent the newly founded Durability Front of the Islamic Revolution, whose spiritual leader is reactionary cleric Mohammad Taghi Mesbah Yazdi.

Six thousand petrochemical workers have gone on strike at two large complexes in southwest Iran. The strikers have demanded that their contracts be directly between them and the government, rather than an intermediary company. They also demand better benefits and extra pay for working in a region with bad environment, and bonuses for productivity and efficiency. In addition, some of the workers have not been paid for as many as 18 months. Fifteen hundred workers went on strike several months ago, and the government eventually agreed with their demands. But as the pact that ended that strike has not yet been implemented, they have walked out again.

The textile and fabric merchants in the Tehran bazaar continue their strike over the value-added tax that the government has been trying to collect. They have been on strike for nearly two months. In an interview with Kaleme, the website close to Mir Hossein Mousavi, one merchant denied the government's assertion that the merchants do not pay any taxes. He stated that the illegal imports of Chinese textiles and fabrics that have saturated the bazaar are increasingly bankrupting the merchants. They stopped their strike for one week, after conservative Majles deputy Asadollah Badamchian of the Islamic Coalition Party, which represents the bazaar's interests, said that the merchants' demands were legitimate and asked them for one week to address their concerns. After a week had passed, Badamchian apologized to the merchants and the issue has remained at an impasse. Reports indicate that when the merchants tried on Monday to gather at the bazaar to protest the value-added tax, they were confronted by special security forces.

The new academic year in Iran began on Monday. According to the Center for Statistics, 19,435,000 students in elementary, middle, and high schools between seven and 19 years of age must resume their studies. But only 12,300,000 students have done so, which means that 7,135,000 students have abandoned their studies. Poverty is believed to be the main cause.

Narges Mohammadi, head of the National Council for Peace and deputy head of the Center for the Defense of Human Rights, has been sentenced to 11 years of incarceration. She was fired from her job in November 2009; the following April, she was summoned to the court, detained for a few days, and then released on $50,000 bail.

Reza Khandad, husband of imprisoned prominent attorney and human rights defender Nasrin Sotoudeh, has been summoned to court. This is the third time this year that Khandan has been summoned. Fakhr ol-Sadat Mohtashamipour, wife of outspoken imprisoned reformist Mostafa Tajzadeh and a prominent social activist in her own right, has also been summoned to court.

Copyright © 2011 Tehran Bureau

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