More Mixed Messages from Iran on Fate of US Hikers, Embezzlement Case
18 Sep 2011 19:35
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7:35 p.m., 27 Shahrivar/September 18 Our columnist Muhammad Sahimi compiled the following news items and commentary:
The Iranian judiciary is considering commuting the sentences of the two American hikers and releasing them, said Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Salehi, speaking at a joint press conference with his Armenian counterpart, Edward Nalbandian. Shane Bauer and Josh Fattal have been in prison in Iran since July 2009. Salehi did not indicate a date for their release.
Meanwhile, Masoud Shafiei, the attorney for the two Americans, told the Associated Press on Saturday that he was in court, "following up the case." He said he hopes the judiciary will clear the way for the payment of the bail that has been set for the two. Shafiei also said that as of Saturday noon in Tehran, one judge had signed the release order, and that after a second judge's signature is attained, they will be set free. On Sunday, it emerged that the second judge "was not in his office," which was claimed as the reason for the delay in the hikers' release. Meanwhile, Ramin Mehmanparast, spokesman for the Foreign Ministry, said that the two American can be set free if they post their bail.
These mixed signals from Iranian officials are yet another manifestation of the power struggle between the two main factions: Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and his supporters and the hardliners around Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.
During his press conference, Salehi also seemed to be criticizing Turkey for allowing NATO to station a radar system on its soil. He said that the system, which is part of the U.S. and E.U. anti-missile shield, has created considerable concerns in Iran and among its neighbors. "We do not consider stationing the radars necessary in a region that is undergoing changes," he said. "Our friends in Turkey must provide adequate justification for what they want to do. We should not allow the region to encounter more misunderstanding [between its nations]."
In a press conference in Ahvaz, the provincial capital of Khuzestan in southwest Iran, Prosecutor-General Gholam Hossein Mohseni Ejei, who has been appointed to investigate the largest case of embezzlement in the nation's history, said that 19 people have been arrested in connection with the case, including Amir Mansoor Khosravi, the primary suspect. He added that more arrests should be expected. According to him, some suspects have been barred from leaving Iran and others have had their assets frozen and been banned from taking part in any business transactions. Ejei said they had also identified and blocked any means by which the suspects could transfer funds out of the country. He added that the first report about the embezzlement was sent to the judiciary 43 days ago, implying that it came to their attention much earlier than the public was aware.
Minister of Intelligence Heydar Moslehi said that the total capital of the Amir Mansoor Aria Investment Group is much larger than the $2.8 billion that has been embezzled. Some of the funds that have been reportedly transferred out of the country, he said, to purchase industrial machines and tools, will be returned to Iran.
Mohammad Reza Khabbaz, a reformist Majles deputy, reported that about $2 billion of the embezzled funds have been transferred outside Iran. Minister of Economic and Financial Affairs Seyyed Shamseddin Hosseini said that no funds were transferred anywhere.
Khabbaz called the $2.8 billion embezzlement a catastrophe, as the total national budget for development and infrastructure in the current Iranian year is about $19 billion. "Mr. Ahmadinejad claims that his administration is the cleanest government in Iran's history," he said. "So I'd like to ask a question: If this is so, how can one distinguish a corrupt government from an uncorrupted one?"
Mohammad Reza Tabesh, leader of the reformist bloc of the Majles, said, "There have been other cases of embezzlement similar to the current one, but because we have been told not to speak about them for now, I will not say anything." He added, "When the various organs become devoid of expertise, when the press loses its power of criticism, when responsible critics are not allowed to speak out, when the Majles cannot do its [mandated] work in defense of the nation's interests, and when the judiciary comes under pressure not to look into important cases, we should naturally expect such [embezzlement] cases. Thus the root cause of such events must be identified."
Iran, the daily published by IRNA, the official news agency, which ardently supports Ahmadinejad, said that the president is in possession of 140,000 documents concerning 314 officials, and will publicize them at the right time. The newspaper also warned the opposition to Ahmadinejad that if it fails to understand his message about the documents, his "patience will run out."***
BBC Persian has a new documentary on Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei's rise to power. It includes interviews with former U.S. hostage John Limbert; Mehdi Khalaji, who is writing a book on Khamenei; Houshang Asadi, who says he shared a cell with Khamenei before the Revolution; a nephew of the ayatollah; and former officials of the Islamic Republic now living in exile, including its first president, Abolhassan Bani Sadr. Archival footage includes Ayatollah Motazeri's pronouncements against the new supreme leader. The BBC broadcast to Iran was jammed (in Farsi):
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