NYT: Courts Rebuke Iran’s President With Sentences and Ally’s Firing
By RICK GLADSTONE and CHRISTINE HAUSER
July 30, 2012
President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad of Iran suffered embarrassments in two politically delicate judicial cases on Monday, in what Iranian analysts called a possible sign of further isolation during his final year in office.
Four people were sentenced to death in a $2.6 billion embezzlement scandal that has been indirectly linked to a top aide of Mr. Ahmadinejad’s and happened on the president’s watch. The sentences, reported by the official Islamic Republic News Agency, were the first handed down to the 39 people convicted in the embezzlement case, which has been unsettling Iran since it was first uncovered last year.
The judiciary did not identify the four condemned defendants, who have the right to appeal, but Iranian analysts have said many of the people implicated in the fraud were tied to appointees of Mr. Ahmadinejad’s administration.
In the second case, the Supreme Court ordered the dismissal of Saeed Mortazavi from his post as executive director of the Social Security Fund, which administers welfare aid in Iran. He is a former Tehran prosecutor disparaged by Iranian dissidents for his role as an enforcer who helped crush the protests that erupted after Mr. Ahmadinejad’s suspiciously lopsided re-election in June 2009.
When a parliamentary committee investigated postelection abuses two years ago, it found Mr. Mortazavi responsible for the torture and deaths of at least three protesters, including the son of a high official, at a notorious detention center. Angering lawmakers, Mr. Ahmadinejad reacted by promoting Mr. Mortazavi, who was part of the president’s inner circle.
It was unclear whether the court order would have a bearing on any criminal prosecution of Mr. Mortazavi, who has always denied the parliamentary committee’s accusations. But his dismissal was clearly a rebuke to Mr. Ahmadinejad.
“Lame duck is very much applicable to him,” said Hadi Ghaemi, executive director of theInternational Campaign for Human Rights in Iran, an advocacy group based in New York. “The sentences, the fraud case being prosecuted with such high publicity, as well as Mortazavi’s rebuke are indicators that more will come out.”
In what appeared to be a possible retaliation leaked by pro-Ahmadinejad elements, the attorney general of Tehran Province was quoted by the Islamic Republic News Agency as saying on Monday that Mohammad Javad Larijani, a member of a powerful conservative family that opposes Mr. Ahmadinejad, may be prosecuted for land fraud in coming days. One of Mr. Larijani’s brothers, Sadegh, is chief of the judiciary in Iran, making such a disclosure even more embarrassing.
Mr. Ahmadinejad once enjoyed the strong support of Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, the country’s supreme leader. The two had a public falling out last year, which led to speculation over a rift between the two, and since then there have been numerous attacks on Mr. Ahmadinejad by members of Parliament and influential clerics seeking to damage him.
But confronting international pressure over Iran’s nuclear program, Iran’s leaders have sought to present a public face of unity and laid aside many of their differences. Ayatollah Khamenei has indicated he supports Mr. Ahmadinejad’s completion of his term, which will expire in June.
Mr. Ahmadinejad has not been accused of involvement in the embezzlement case. But the extent of the wrongdoing was particularly galling to Ayatollah Khamenei, who once exhorted prosecutors to find those responsible and “cut off the hands” of the guilty.
The top prosecutor in the case, Gholam Hossein Mohseni Ejei, was quoted by Iran’s state-run press as saying that besides the four defendants condemned to die, two were given life terms and the others sentences of up to 25 years.
The first signs of the widespread embezzlement were uncovered in September at Bank Melli, Iran’s largest commercial bank, and culminated in the trial, which started in February. The authorities said the scandal had expanded to involve the use of forged documents to obtain credit from at least seven Iranian state and private banks. The money was used over four years to buy state-owned companies, they said.
Mr. Ahmadinejad’s opponents in Parliament tied the case to his former chief of staff, Esfandiar Rahim Mashaei, and other associates who had relationships with the main suspect, Mahsarid Amir-Mansour Khosravi, a businessman who owns at least 35 companies. Mr. Ejei has said that Mr. Khosravi confessed while in custody and started cooperating with the authorities.
The other suspects were not named, but have been said to include managers of bank branches and a number of clerks who were accused of accepting bribes.
Iran’s Fars news agency reported that the Iranian authorities had asked Canada to return a suspect in the case, Mahmoud Reza Khavari, the former managing director of Bank Melli, who fled to that country in September when the scandal broke. Iran does not have an extradition treaty with Canada, where Mr. Khavari has held dual citizenship since 2005 and has a home.
The Iranian media previously reported that Mr. Khavari had resigned last year in a letter addressed to Iran’s finance minister, Shamseddin Hosseini, in which he asked for forgiveness from Ayatollah Khamenei. Mr. Hosseini, an ally of the Iranian president, accepted the resignation, but has come under criticism for doing so.
Artin Afkhami contributed reporting.