On June 8th, the former vice-president in charge of executive affairs, Hamid Baghaei, was detained for questioning on undisclosed charges, but it is believed that he is suspected to be linked to an embezzlement scandal the Iranian judiciary system has been investigating since last year. This is part of a nation-wide effort to punish and prevent money laundering and corruption promoted by Hassan Rouhani’s government. Since when he was elected as president in June 2013, Rouhani has been one of the staunchest critics of the previous administration, led by Mahmoud Ahmadinejad (2005-2013), accused of facilitating and being involved in a number of corruption scandals.
Judiciary spokesperson, Gholamhossein Mohseni-Ajai, declared to Fars News Agency that ‘former vice-president Hamid Baghaei had a charge sheet issued against him by the judiciary and the prosecutor summoned him today for questioning’, but no further detail was added. Baghaei’s arrest is the second during this year. In fact, in January the former vice-president Mohammad Reza Rahimi was condemned to 5-year imprisonment and to pay a fine of nearly 10 billion rials, corresponding to 300,000 Euro, in connection with money laundering and an embezzlement scheme worth billions of dollars. Although Mohseni-Ajai did not specify the charges against Baghaei, it is believed that the two arrests are linked, therefore outlining a broader scenario where the very final objective might be the one of putting the former president Ahmadinejad under pressure.
Despite facing fierce opposition from the Supreme Leader, the current administration, the parliament and the security apparatus, Ahmadinejad seems to be willing to come back on the national political scene. Former vice-president Rahimi, a friend to Ahmadinejad, apparently wrote a letter to him after his arrest. The letter was later leaked and it linked Ahmadinejad to the corruption scandal. In May 2014, Iran executed billionaire businessman Mahafarid Amir Khosravi, accused of being at the heart of a state bank scam worth 2.6 billion dollars that started in 2007. Although Ahmadinejad denies any involvement, many believe that during his administration corruption was rife throughout those that controlled the country’s economy. Khosravi’s case was the largest fraud case since the 1979 Revolution.
As vice president, Rahimi faced allegations that he was the head of the ‘Fatemi Street Ring’, a group of government appointees and associates that during Ahmadinejad’s governments engaged in a number of embezzlements and bribe takings. Journalists and MPs have accused Rahimi of blackmailing the board of the National State Insurance Company with reports on the company engaging in financial impropriety, thus forcing the directors to sign off millions of dollars into accounts Rahimi controlled. Because Rahimi was appointed as vice president after Ahmadinejad got re-elected as president in 2009, it is speculated that he had a crucial role in help securing funding to sustain the president’s ascent.
On Sunday, president Hassan Rouhani called for the establishment of a ‘completely secure banking system’ to prevent money laundering as part of his administration’s ongoing anti-corruption campaign. Rouhani also stated that Parliament ‘is expected to speed up passing the money laundering bill.’ Rouhani held a cabinet session on June 7 to promote government transparency, stating that ‘A completely secure banking system for official and legal activities …[that] is extremely insecure for illegal activities must be established so that no one can abuse the banking system for money laundering’. The president urged officials to utilize legal measures to strengthen financial transparency and said that the ‘government and judiciary have to cooperate in this regard and the Parliament is also expected to speed up passing the money laundering bill.’
Currently, in Iran all top political figures are supporting efforts for increasing transparency, communicating to the private sector that the new government is cleaning up the scene to attract more genuinely private investments. Gholam Hossein Shafei, president of the Iran Chamber of Commerce, Industry and Mining, has presented his road map for fighting corruption. His guidelines include: ‘political and structural reforms; serious reforms in management concepts; genuine privatization; growing role for nongovernmental organizations and civil society; growing space for independent media to supervise business and government activities; and the promotion of codes of conduct in the private and public sectors.’
The Supreme Leader seems to have given free hand to Rouhani’s efforts, considering that he effectively control Iran’s judiciary system. He is believed to have played a crucial role in making Rahimi’s arrest to happen, and it is likely that he had a similar relevance also in Baghaei’s current detention. It is no coincidence, in fact, he repeatedly called for transparency. Iran is indeed in the middle of a 20-year plan to decentralise and privatise its economy. Supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei has repeatedly warned officials against using the transition program as a chance to enrich themselves.