IRAN: Ayatollahs accused of corruption

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A speech earlier this month by a former official of the Iranian parliament accusing some of the country’s most powerful senior clerics of corruption has reverberated through the political establishment this week.

Abbas Palizdar, a former parliamentary researcher and corruption investigator, made a widely publicized speech this week at a university in the western Iranian city of Hamadan in which he named leading politicians and clerics as engaged in pilfering state funds and obtaining favorable business arrangements for their relatives.

His targets included the family of Ayatollah Hashemi Rafsanjani (right), a powerful and relatively moderate conservative cleric and former president widely viewed as a rival to President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. Here’s an excerpt from Rooz Online:

Their economic corruption is so widespread that it is not possible to list them. But one of them is in their lack of payment of taxes to the government.


Many saw the speech as an attempt by Ahmadinejad to weaken his rivals. The Web site Iran Almanac described him as one of the president’s ‘closest allies.’ But a pro-Ahmadinejad site rejected the claim that Palizdar was an ally of the president.

Still many wondered why he has not been arrested for making such claims while newspapers are often shut down for publicly discussing corruption.

Iran’s fractious political leadership is gearing up for all-important 2009 presidential elections. Though relatively liberal reformers have been cut out of power, a conservative faction hostile to Ahmadinejad gained the upper hand in legislative elections earlier this year and elected a rival to the president, Ali Larijani, as speaker of the Majles.

Some predicted the revelations would produce even more friction within the country’s ruling elite. Here’s Mehdi Noorbaksh, a professor of international relations at Harrisburg University in Pennsylvania, in an e-mail:

Ahmadinejad is playing with fire. Clergy belong to a class and when threatened, react cruelly and with malice. ...Rafsanjani has enough power within the governing institutions and also among the reformist and conservatives to deal with this new wave under Ahmadinejad.

The son of a blacksmith and Revolutionary Guard veteran who fought on the front lines of the Iran-Iraq war, Ahmadinejad represents a new force in Iranian politics. His backers include members of the Revolutionary Guard and military who are challenging the economic and political supremacy of the Shiite Muslim clerics who have run Iran since the 1979 revolution.

Palizdar made no allegations against Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei, Iran’s highest religious, political and military authority. He also did not mention of the alleged corruption of the Revolutionary Guard, which has its hands in many business ventures.

Instead he singled out the members of the judiciary and other so-called traditional clerics. He said that the son-in-law of Ayatollah Makaram Shirazi, a powerful cleric, runs a sugar “mafia” worth so much money they were willing to pay $700 million to keep themselves from being publicly exposed.

He said a foundation that included several key conservative leaders including Ali Akbar Nategh-Nouri, a powerful confidante of Khamenei, and Asqar Owladi, head of Iran’s Islamic Coalition Association, demanded hundreds of cars at 50% discounts from the state-owned manufactuer.

He accused unseen hands of being involved in assassinations of a former minister of transportation and said the plane crash of a Revolutionary Guard commander was “suspicious.”

Borzou Daragahi