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Multibillion-Dollar Embezzlement Case Embroils Ahmadinejad Aide Mashaei

14 Sep 2011 06:15Comments

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

MashaeiFlag.jpg6:15 a.m., 22 Shahrivar/September 13 Our columnist Muhammad Sahimi compiled the following news items and commentary:
As reported by Tehran Bureau, the largest case of embezzlement in the history of Iran's banking system was recently revealed. The discovery of the theft of close to $3 billion has shaken the financial field around the country, and has been the top topic of discussion in the mass media. Tehran-e Emrooz, the newspaper close to Tehran Mayor Mohammad Bager Ghalibaf, reported in its Wednesday edition that of the $3 billion embezzled, about $2 billion has already been transferred abroad. In the latest development, the case is being used by the hardliners around Ayatollah Ali Khamenei to attack Esfandiar Rahim Mashaei, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's chief of staff and close confidant.

The main figure allegedly behind the embezzlement is Amir Mansoor Khosravi, who has a controlling interest in Iran's largest railroad company, the Engineering Services and Technical Foundation for Railroads, known as Traverse, which employs 8,000 people. The Mashregh News website, which is close to the security forces, published a copy of a letter that Mashaei sent to Minister of Economic and Financial Affairs Seyyed Shamseddin Hosseini and then Minister of Roads and Transportation Hamid Behbahani last September 29, asking them to facilitate the sale of 50.5 percent of the shares in the state-controlled Khuzestan Steel Company, one of the largest industrial concerns in Iran, to Traverse. The letter states that the president agreed with the transaction. After the letter, the shares were sold to Traverse. Mashregh News also published a letter indicating that the government planned to uses the proceeds from the sale of the steel company shares to fund the construction of a 75-mile-long road between Ramsar and Noor by the Caspian Sea -- the contract for which would go to Traverse. Mashregh News claimed as well that Traverse itself was sold to Khosravi for only $100 million, far below its market value, as part of a privatization plan.

Parviz Sarvari, a hardline Majles deputy and former Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps officer, said that Mashaei should be executed because he has a hand in the embezzlement. According to Sarvari, a member of the parliament's Commission on National Security and Foreign Policy, "A person who has created a great challenge for the national economy and can single-handedly create problems, and in collaboration with centers of power and wealth take action against the Islamic Republic should not be treated simply by the judiciary. He should receive a sentence at the level of execution."

As reported by Tehran Bureau, a plan has been under discussion to devalue the Iranian currency, so that 10,000 rials will be converted to just one. Reacting to the embezzlement, Nader Ghazipour, a Majles deputy from Orumieh, publicly asked of the Central Bank's governor, "Mr. [Mahmoud] Bahmani, is elimination of four zeroes from the national currency meant to make the embezzlement look not too terrifying?" He demanded Bahmani's resignation.

On Sunday, the state television network broadcast a program about the embezzlement in which it criticized the National Inspection Organization, which monitors the performance of the government's various organs. After the program, Mostafa Pour Mohammadi, the head of the organization, was invited to participate in a program and respond to the criticism. Pour Mohammadi, Ahmadinejad's first interior minister, was fired by the president in 2008 and is now a critic of the administration. Pour Mohammadi suggested that Bahmani also participate in the program, but Ahmadinejad ordered the Central Bank chief not to. The organization has promised that Pour Mohammadi will explain all the aspects of the embezzlement. Many leading figures have called for the dismissal or resignation of senior banking officials.

The Ayandeh News website, close to former President Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, compared the Khosravi case to the largest cases of financial corruption during his administration and that of former President Mohammad Khatami. During the Rafsanjani administration, the largest known case of financial corruption involved Fazel Khodadad and Morteza Rafighdoost, who would borrow 120 million tomans (about $600,000 at the time) from a bank every morning, use it in daily transactions, and then return the money by the closing time. It was said that the culprits had made about $600 million this way. Khodadad was executed, while Rafighdoost was given a sentence of life imprisonment. The largest known case of corruption during the Khatami administration involved Shahram Jazaeri, who borrowed about $100 million and never paid back the loan.

Mohammad Reza Rahimi, Ahmadinejad's first vice president, suddenly fired Javad Farshbaf Maherian, head of the Central Insurance Company, a large state enterprise, and appointed Seyyed Mohammad Karimi in his place. Whether this has anything to do with an as yet unrevealed case of financial corruption is not clear. Rahimi has been accused of being a leader of a group that embezzled about $1.2 billion through insurance fraud and other irregularities.

At the same time, Entekhab, a moderate conservative website, asserts that Rahimi will soon leave the government and be replaced by Ebrahim Azizi, who is currently vice resident for planning and oversight. A source close to the administration has denied the claim.

MashaeiDeepPurple.jpgControversial author Reza Golpour -- whose recent Shonood-e Ashbaah (Listening to Ghosts) purports to reveal what is going on in Iran behind the scenes -- granted a long interview to Shargh, the reformist newspaper, in which he made new accusations against Mashaei.

Golpour has written several controversial letters, including one in 2004 to former President Khatami (for which he claims he was jailed for six months), although he has never publicized the letter. In the interview, he said that he warned Khatami about some members of his administration, such as Ali Hashemi, a nephew of Rafsanjani's, and Mohsen Sazegara, who now lives in the United States. He has also written a letter to Mashaei and another to Ahmadinejad about his close confidant that are seen by some as the trigger for all the controversy this year concerning the so-called "perverted group," Mashaei and his inner circle.

In the interview, Golpour accused Mashaei of being "a supporter of the Mojahedin[-e Khalgh Organization (MKO)] and murderer of pasdaran [Revolutionary Guard soldiers]." He provided an extensive list of Mashaei kin who were purportedly MKO members and either killed, jailed, or fired from their jobs. As Tehran Bureau has reported, Mashaei is married to Tahereh Zabihian, a former MKO member and, in the 1980s, a member of the Revolutionary Guards' intelligence unit. Regarding Mashaei's wife, Golpour said, "Before the marriage, she and her sister, Kafieh, had organizational links with a Ms. Jafari [an MKO member]." Concerning an investigation into one of Mashaei's brothers, Golpour said, "Several people were killed without their case before the judiciary going through the normal process." He accused Mashaei of being involved in the murder of several Guard members.

According to Golpour, many other Mashaei family members were involved with the MKO:

* One of Mashaei's brothers, Bakhtiar Rahim Mashaei (who used the pseudonym Koorosh Rahimi), was an MKO member and almost executed
* Another brother, the late Naser Rahim Mashaei, was expelled from the Ministry of Education due to his activities as a MKO member
* A third brother, Ahmad Reza Rahim Mashaei, was also executed and buried in the yard of his house in Ramsar, by the Caspian Sea
* A sister, Sedighej Rahim Mashaei, was fired from the Ministry of Economic and Financial Affairs
* A first cousin, Azim Rahim Mashaei was an MKO member and active outside Iran
* Another cousin, Abdolkarim Rahim Mashaei was fired from his job in a bank because of his MKO sympathies for the MKO
* A nephew, Ali Salehi, was a MKO member who was executed
* Bakhtiar Rahim, the brother of Mashaei's wife, was also an MKO member and was jailed for his membership in the group

Golpour also claimed that in a conversation with Mashaei, which he says he recorded, the president's chief of staff told him that Imam Mahdi is in contact with certain people and that Khamenei has the support of only about one million voters. The accuracy of Golpour's accusations cannot be verified at this point.

Mashaei's attorney, Seyyed Ali Asghar Hosseini, has asked Tehran Prosecutor-General Abbas Jafari Dolatabadi to charge Mansoor Arzi and put him on trial. As reported by Tehran Bureau, about two weeks ago, Arzi -- who used to be an ardent Ahmadinejad supporter -- declared that anyone who kills Mashaei can count on him to pay the blood money that would be owed to Mashaei's family.

Mohammad Sharif Malekzadeh, a key Mashaei aide who was arrested almost three months ago, has been released on bail. As reported by Tehran Bureau, some time ago Malekzadeh was appointed as a deputy foreign minister, prompting a storm of protest from Ahmadinejad's critics. Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Salehi forced his resignation from the post, after which he was arrested.

Meanwhile, Abdol Reza Rahmani Fazli, head of the Calculation Tribunal, which monitors how the budget is spent and national resources are handled, reported that the government has not deposited $12 billion of the nation's earnings from oil exports into the national treasury, and at the same time has borrowed close to $5 billion from the Central Bank to distribute cash handouts to people in lieu of the subsidies that have been eliminated or reduced.

***

Major General Mohammad Ali Jafari, the top Revolutionary Guard commander, said that the offensive against the Party of Free Life of Kurdistan (PJAK) is meant to prevent future threats against Iran's national security. He said that PJAK and similar groups are supported by the United States and Israel.

Reformist Majles deputy Mohammad Reza Tabesh denied reports that his maternal uncle, former President Khatami, has been ill. He also said that the reformists have not made any decision regarding the upcoming parliamentary elections and will announce their position in October. Reformist Akram Mosavvari Manesh, a former Majles deputy, said that the right conditions for the reformists to participate in the elections do not exist.

Nine political prisoners have written a letter to Khatami asking him to clarify the conditions that he has set for the reformists to participate in the Majles elections. As reported by Tehran Bureau, Khatami said that the release of all the political prisoners, a free press, freedom for all political groups, and elimination of the power of the Guardian Council to vet candidates are the conditions that must be fulfilled in order for the reformists to run in the elections. The political prisoners have asked Khatami to define who is a political prisoner in his view. They expressed concern that Khatami is interested in the release of only those prisoners who are allied with the reformists. They also requested that he clarify what he means by freedom for political groups, asking him whether he means "freedom for all the political groups who believe in peaceful struggle for democracy, or merely a return to the conditions that existed before the June 2009 elections." Khatami has also said that the entire Constitution should be put to practice, and the political prisoners have asked him how he proposes to reform the judiciary so that it will implement those articles of the Constitution that concern both political prisoners and economic corruption.

Ali Akbar Mohammad Zadeh, secretary-general of the Muslim Student Association of Sharif University in Tehran, has been sentenced to six years of incarceration. He was arrested on February 15 while he was leaving school. Reports indicate that he was tortured in prison.

Four labor and university activists in Tabriz have been handed long jail sentences. Shahrokh Zamani, a labor activist in Tabriz, has been sentenced to 11 years of imprisonment. Mohammad Jarrahi, also a labor activist, has been given a five-year sentence. Nima Pour Yaghoob, a secular leftist student at the University of Tabriz, who was arrested on June 9, has been sentenced to six years of imprisonment. He was previously arrested in 2008 and found not guilty. Sasan Vahebi Vash, another secular leftist student at the school, has been sentenced to six months in jail. He was arrested on August 18.

Various sources report that at least 110 people have been arrested in Tabriz after the demonstrations protesting the drying up of Lake Orumieh. Reports indicate that they are being held in the quarantined section of Tabriz Prison, which is in a very poor state. One hundred and seventy social and political activists have issued a statement condemning the arrests in the Azerbaijan region that have followed the protests. "This latest round of arrests shows how intolerant Iranian authorities are toward any form of public criticism," said Joe Stork, deputy Middle East director at Human Rights Watch. "Authorities should free Azerbaijan region residents who appear to have been arrested solely for gathering peacefully, and if there is credible evidence that any of them acted violently, either charge or release them." One of the main slogans heard during the demonstrations was, "Let's try together to fill up Lake Orumieh [with our tears]."

Yukiya Amano, director-general of the International Atomic Energy Agency, told a meeting of the agency's board of governors on Monday that he is increasingly concerned about Iran's possible development of a nuclear missile and accused Tehran of failing to cooperate fully with his inspectors. Amano told the IAEA's 35-nation board he hoped to "set out in greater detail the basis for the agency's concerns so that all member states are fully informed." He added, "Iran is not providing the necessary cooperation to enable the agency to provide credible assurance about the absence of undeclared nuclear material and activities," although he did acknowledge that Iran has recently been more cooperative.

Amano's accusations came one day after Foreign Minister Salehi said that a new letter has been sent to European Union foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton, telling her that Iran is ready for more dialogue over its nuclear program. Saeed Jalili, secretary-general of Iran's Supreme National Security Council and the country's chief nuclear negotiator, sent the letter to Ashton few days ago. Salehi discussed the letter at a joint news conference with Russian Minister of Energy Sergey Shmatko. Iran and Russia signed a number of cooperation documents in fields of energy, space, nuclear energy, and trade in transit, transportation, banking and finance.

Fox News reports that a group of Columbia University students will have dinner with Ahmadinejad when he makes his seventh trip to the United States to participate in the annual meeting of the United Nations General Assembly. Fifteen members of the Columbia International Relations Council and Association have been invited to the September 21 event in Manhattan, according to the school's newspaper. The students will dine and speak with Ahmadinejad and Columbia President Lee Bollinger, who introduced the Iranian president as "a petty and cruel dictator" when he spoke on campus in 2007.

Copyright © 2011 Tehran Bureau

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