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Embezzlement Case Grips Regime; Leader's Rep to Ahmadinejad: 'Atone'

16 Sep 2011 13:15Comments

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 Daylight Time (IRDT), GMT+4:30

12:15 a.m., 26 Shahrivar/September 17 The following items were compiled by Muhammad Sahimi:

Catherine Ashton, the European Union high representative for foreign affairs and security policy and commission vice-president, has called on Iran to release all political prisoners, as the country "is in breach of the international obligations that Iran has itself signed up to." She criticized Iran's persecution of human-rights lawyers and activists, including Nasrin Sotoudeh. Despite the concerns expressed by the E.U. over her case, Iran also arrested the prominent human rights defender Abdolfattah Soltani, as well as Sotoudeh's own lawyer. "This illustrates the erosion of political and civil freedoms in Iran and is indicative of the increasingly difficult conditions for human rights activists in Iran," Ashton said. She did welcome the release of Dr. Arash Alaei, an AIDS physician, who was imprisoned in 2008, in connection with the pardons at the end of Ramadan on which Tehran Bureau reported. "But I remain worried that, despite the overall release of 1,200 prisoners, many are still detained on grounds which appear above all to be political," Ashton added.

Minister of Economic and Financial Affairs Seyyed Shamseddin Hosseini reported on the latest developments in the massive embezzlement case that has preoccupied the regime this week. He said that Ahmadinejad's cabinet has decided that he, Minister of Intelligence Heydar Moslehi, and Central Bank governor Mahmoud Bahmani, should be the spokesmen on the issue. He also claimed that the total amount stolen is about $1.6 billion, not $3 billion, as has been reported (other officials have confirmed the larger figure), but acknowledged that many aspects of the embezzlement remain unclear. Hosseini also claimed that the shares of a large steel corporation in Khuzestan have not been sold to the Amir Mansoor Aria Investment Group, which is at the heart of the embezzlement case. His deputy Ali Salehabadi also claimed that no government-owned corporation has been sold to the investment group.

The claims made by Hosseini and his deputy, however, are contradicted by the available information. Ninety-five percent of the shares of Traverse, the most important railroad company in Iran, were sold in 2009 to the Amir Mansoor Aria Investment Group. In 2010, 40 percent of Khuzestan Steel was sold to the same group, which had already taken control of 95 percent of National Steel of Iran the previous year. In addition, 95 percent of the Machine Tool Corporation of Lorestan was sold to the investment group.

MohseniEjeiCenter.jpg1:15 p.m., 25 Shahrivar/September 16 Our columnist Muhammad Sahimi compiled the following news items and commentary:
Judiciary chief Sadegh Larijani has appointed the country's prosecutor-general and judiciary spokesman, Gholam Hossein Mohseni Ejei (pictured at center), to oversee the investigation of the largest embezzlement in Iran's history. He has ordered Ejei to "swiftly" investigate all those that have been involved, and ask the courts to hand down the maximum punishment allowed by the laws. As reported by Tehran Bureau, close to $3 billion was embezzled from Iran's banking system in the case, $2 billion of which has reportedly been transferred abroad.

In a speech in Ardabil, in northwest Iran, President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad asked the judiciary to inform him about the culprits behind the embezzlement. He said, "Sometime ago, some people abused the banking system and received huge sums under various excuses and then used them to play industrial plants. But this was in violation of the purpose of the loans that they had received. When the government realized this, it protested loudly and demanded an investigation. I ask the judiciary to identify those who were involved in the embezzlement from any group, and inform me about them." Ahmadinejad's speech was not broadcast live by state television, which provoked a protest from his office.

In the Ardabil speech, Ahmadinejad also threatened an unnamed group that his administration will not be silent forever regarding the embezzlement. He called his administration "the cleanest, most corruption-free government" in Iran's history, adding, "Some people are accusing the government regarding the embezzlement, whereas if we are silent it is due to [our respect for] the Leader, and of course the silence will not last long."

But in a speech in Khalkhal four hours later, Ahmadinejad claimed, "We have identified the embezzlement culprits ourselves." He added, "We decided to identify the assets of these people and freeze them, but someone publicized it earlier." See pictures of Ahmadinejad from his trip here.

As reported by Tehran Bureau, Mashregh News, a website close to the security forces, published a copy of a letter by Esfandiar Rahim Mashaei, Ahmadinejad's chief of staff and close confidant, in which he had asked the heads of the Ministry of Economic and Financial Affairs and the former Ministry of Roads and Transportation to facilitate the no-bid sale of the shares of a major steel mill to Amir Mansoor Khosravi, the leading suspect in the embezzlement case. In reaction, Ahmadinejad's office issued a statement that confirmed the letter's existence, but insisted that Mashaei had only conveyed the president's views and that no illegal transaction had taken place.

Dolat-e Ma, a pro-Ahmadinejad website, accused associates of Hossein Shariatmadari, the hardline managing editor of Kayhan, of "trying to free [from prison] the culprits behind the embezzlement." Referring to them as the "offenders in holy clothes," the website declared, "Some influential figures who are friends of the managing editor of Kayhan have made many contacts to get freedom for the embezzlement in Bank Saderat and to cover up what has happened. The owners of the holy clothes may be anywhere and present in any branch of the system. Who are the people who are supposed to release Kayhan and its comrades and cover up [for it]?"

***

Mashregh News subsequently reported that Ali Saeedi, Khamenei's representative to the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, met privately with Ahmadinejad and advised him to atone for his past errors. He told Mashregh News, "In the private meeting, I told him that you are the conveyer of values and ideals [of the Revolution], and could have preserved the ideals so that your name would have been recorded as a hero in Iran's history. Of course, I told him that, unfortunately, the path was altered and those who liked you have some criticisms of you. I told the president, given the special attention of the Leader of the Revolution [Ayatollah Ali Khamenei], there is still an opportunity to make up for the past. I hope that with the help of the pious people, the path [of Ahmadinejad] will go back to its original."

Mashaei's attorney, Seyyed Ali Asghar Hosseini, said that he has filed lawsuits against ten people, "some of whom are senior officials in the other two branches of the political system [legislative and judiciary], including a senior official in the judiciary, and even someone who was formerly a senior military officer, but does not have a military post." Hosseini added that two of the people are clerics.

Majles deputy Arsalan Fathipour, chairman of the parliament's Commission on Economic Affairs, said that his commission will hold a special meeting on Monday that will focus on the embezzlement case. Mahmoud Bahmani, governor of the Central Bank; Minister of Economic and Financial Affairs Seyyed Shamseddin Hossein; Mohammad Jahromi, head of Bank Saderat, where the embezzlement was initiated; and Mostafa Pour Mohammadi, head of the National Organization for Inspection, will participate in the meeting. To distance the administration from the embezzlement, Ahmadinejad and Bahmani have both asserted that Bank Saderat is a private financial institution, though most of its shares are owned by the government.

Majles deputy Abbas Rajaei, chairman of the Commission on Agriculture, said that the culprits behind the embezzlement are "economic terrorists that deserve the maximum punishment." He added, "Mohareban [those who fight against God] in a society are not just those who kill people, but also include those who create multiple economic problems for the people and commit such irrational acts." He suggested that the culprits be executed.

The embezzlement has also proved to be the subject of much satiric coverage in the Iranian press and cyberspace. One cartoon, for example, shows a man, presumably Khosravi, swallowing an entire bank while uttering, "Holoo, boro too geloo" (Peach, go down my throat).

Bridadier General Hossein Hamadani, commander of the Mohammad Rasool-Allah Corps, said that Ahmadinejad and his administration "have left the path of velaayat" -- obedience to Supreme Leader Khamenei. In a speech commemorating the victims of terrorism, Hamadani asked the youth "not to get involved with the 'perverted current,'" meaning Mashaei and his inner circle, adding that the deception and perversion of Ahmadinejad's team "are far more dangerous than what happened in the early days of the Revolution."

Gholam Hossein Elham, former spokesman for the Ahmadinejad administration, said that people pay large sums to be given important positions within the government. "Some time ago, a person told another person, 'You pay $200,000 to be appointed the head of such and such division,'" Elham said as an example, without specifying who the two were or the division in question. He added, "If financial corruption were truly a negative value in our society, that would be great, but it has become the common norm. Financial corruption must be bad for left and right, cleric and non-cleric, not just for those on the other side."

Women's rights activist and blogger Maryam Bahreman was released after 126 days of detention. She posted $220,000 bail to secure her release.

Feyzollah Arabsorkhi, a senior member of the Organization of Islamic Revolution Mojahedin -- the leading reformist party, which has been outlawed by the hardliners -- was suddenly released from prison. He was arrested in the aftermath of the June 2009 presidential election and sentenced to six years of imprisonment.

Grand Ayatollah Asadollah Bayat Zanjani, a popular cleric and supporter of the Green Movement, telephoned Somayyeh Tohidloo after her lashing and talked to her about her ordeal. At the same time, the Muslim Students' Association of the Faculty of Social Science at the University of Tehran, where Tohidloo is a doctoral student, issued a strongly worded statement that said in part, "We all testify that over the past two years [since Tohidloo's "conviction"], everyone, regardless of left or right, expressed their regrets to her about the sentence and protested the unjust verdict against her, since she was arrested immediately after the [2009] election and was not politically active. More painful are the efforts of the so-called 'soft war activists' whose main job has become to spread lies and rumors and who try to deny that [the Green Movement and its supporters] ever existed.... Those who have known Somayyeh Tohidloo are well aware that such characteristics as decency, rationality, morality, moderation, reformism, loyalty to the laws, the search for justice and freedom, and love for true Islam and Iran's national interests are part of her identity."

Former President Mohammad Khatami and outspoken reformist Mostafa Tajzadeh, who was deputy interior minister in the first Khatami administration, harshly criticized the repressive state of the country and the incompetence of Ahmadinejad's government. In a meeting with former Iran-Iraq War POWs, Khatami said, "The oppressor must go, particularly in our era, [because] our people want to decide their own fate and their own boss." He expressed his regrets over the fact that "the legitimate freedom of the society has been hurt and violated under the guise of concern for national security." In an interview with Kaleme, the website close to Mir Hossein Mousavi, Tajzadeh said, "We must consider several aspects of the problem with Lake Orumieh. In my opinion, one aspect of it is related to the current state of affairs in the country, the incompetence of the government, and ineffectiveness of the Majles. People recognize that not only is the lake being destroyed, they are also upset about the lack of attention to the problem. During the rule of the hardliners', incompetence and inattention have been combined. This is what has caused people's anger."

Nationalist-religious figure Dr. Mohammad Maleki, the first chancellor of the University of Tehran after the 1979 Revolution, has been told that he has been barred from leaving Iran. This is apparently in retaliation for the letter that he recently wrote to Dr. Ahmed Shaheed, the United Nations special rapporteur on human rights in Iran. In his letter, Maleki, who has been repeatedly jailed and tortured, said,

My brother, Mr. Shaheed, I am one of the tens of thousands of individuals whose human rights have been violated multiple times by the authoritarian and oppressive rulers who have reigned over the Islamic Republic of Iran for thirty-two years. In Iran's prisons, I have witnessed numerous crimes, but can draw your attention to only a small number of them in this letter.

Concerning his first arrest, he wrote,

I was tried unlawfully in a court without legal representation and was, at first, sentenced to death. This verdict was then modified to ten years in prison. During this time, I endured the most brutal treatments, such as being beaten on the soles of my feet and elsewhere with an electric cable and being hung from the ceiling. My head was repeatedly banged against the wall, and I was punched, kicked and forced to tolerate a number of other forms of torture. As a result, I lost vision in my left eye and suffered from a broken bone in my right wrist. The markings of some of those tortures still remain, and my body bears the scars to this day. After five years, I was supposedly released from prison, but for months, I had to report to the judiciary every few days to be interrogated and tormented in other forms.

He then discussed a subsequent arrest:

Together with dozens of other [nationalist-religious] activists, I was arrested again in March 2000 under the pretext of plotting to overthrow the government and was locked up in an isolation cell measured 1x2 meters in one of the most gruesome and dreadful prisons [Eshratabad military base] operated by Sepah [the Revolutionary Guards]. Legal experts and psychiatrists refer to the incarceration of prisoners under extreme sensory deprivation and isolation as "white torture." After enduring approximately seven months of "white torture," I was released in order to stand trial. Subsequently, I was tried illegally again behind closed doors and received seven years of suspended prison sentence.

After the June 2009 election, Maleki was arrested yet again, about which he wrote,

On August 22, 2009, intelligence agents raided my house in the early hours of the day. After searching the premises and seizing many books, they took me out of my sickbed and transferred me directly to Evin Prison, Ward 209, where I spent three months in solitary confinement. At the time of my arrest, I suffered from prostate cancer, irregular heartbeats, and abnormal blood pressure. I was also receiving chemotherapy and struggled with regular fainting spells and blackouts.

During interrogations, I was insulted and humiliated in so many different ways, and only because of my writings, I was charged with the crime of moharebeh [waging war against god] and insulting the supreme leaders of Iran, Mr. Khomeini and Mr. Khamenei. Eventually, after 191 days of incarceration and due to rapidly deteriorating health, I was granted a sick leave from prison in order to continue my chemotherapy and undergo a surgery to implant a pacemaker in my heart.

Separately, Shirin Ebadi, the 2003 Nobel Peace Laureate, wrote a letter to Shaheed in which she said that Iranian human rights defenders have no security in terms of their lives or professions in the Islamic Republic. Ebadi, founder and head of the Center for Defense of Human Rights in Iran, which has been outlawed by the government, said in her letter that the nation's revolutionary courts have classified human rights activities as "grave crimes" and are accordingly punishing human rights activists -- she listed several prominent ones, including Nasrin Sotoudeh, Abolfattah Soltani, Mohammad Seifzadeh, Mohammadali Dadkhah, Abdol Reza Tajik, and Bahareh Hedayat. She called on Shaheed to protest the "violation of human rights in Iran" and to urge the Islamic Republic to respect the rights of its citizens.

An appeal courts has reduced the sentence of prominent attorney and human rights defender Nasrin Sotoudeh to six years of imprisonment and a ten-year ban on practicing law. She was previously sentenced to 11 years of incarceration, a 20-year ban on practicing law, and a 20-year ban on travel abroad.

Hamid Reza Taraghi, an influential member of the conservative Islamic Coalition Party and its deputy secretary-general for international affairs, said that Iran must not make a concession to the United States by freeing Shane Bauer and Josh Fattal.

The Turkish Foreign Ministry issued a statement in which it said that its new radar array that will be built as part of the NATO anti-missile defense system will be about 335 miles from its border with Iran, in the town of Malatya, and hence no threat. At the same time, the refusal of the United States to rule out data-sharing with Israel risks adding strains to already frayed relations, as Turkish politicians move to distance themselves from Israel, which has repeatedly threatened Iran.

In an op-ed piece in the New York Times, Turki al-Faisal, former director of Saudi Arabia's intelligence services and the kingdom's former ambassador to the United States, warned that if the United States vetoes the resolution in the Security Council to accept Palestine as an independent U.N. member, it will lose a strategic chance to weaken and contain Iran. Al-Faisal wrote, "The United States must support the Palestinian bid for statehood at the United Nations this month or risk losing the little credibility it has in the Arab world. If it does not, American influence will decline further, Israeli security will be undermined and Iran will be empowered, increasing the chances of another war in the region." If the U.S. does support Palestinian statehood, al-Faisal wrote, "The only losers in this scenario would be Syria and Iran, pariah states that have worked tirelessly -- through their support of Hamas and Hezbollah -- to undermine the peace process. Saudi Arabia recently played a leading role in isolating Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's brutal government by demanding an end to the killing of protesters and recalling the Saudi ambassador from Damascus. The impending fall of Mr. Assad's barbarous regime provides a rare strategic opportunity to weaken Iran. Without this vital ally, Tehran will find it more difficult to foment discord in the Arab world."

At the end of its meeting in Cairo, the Arab League accused Iran of making "provocative statements" about Persian Gulf nations, presumably meaning Saudi Arabia and Bahrain. The statement said the League was "deeply concerned by the provocative statements issued by Iranian officials and the Iranian media about a number of Gulf nations which are considered a breach of good neighborly relations." The statement did not elaborate on the nature of the Iranian statements, but the Arab foreign ministers said Iran should stop issuing them and halt "media campaigns which do not help improve ties between the two sides and achieve stability in the region." The statement added, "Differences must be solved through peaceful means, not force or threats." The meeting was attended by Prime Minister Recep Tayyib Erdogan of Turkey, who was warmly greeted by the foreign ministers of the 22-nation group. But his suggestion that Egypt should have a secular constitution sparked a huge controversy.

Copyright © 2011 Tehran Bureau

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