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Iran: Corruption Files Deepen Internal Division | ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive 2005 -2017
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President Hassan Rouhani (L) and Judiciary Chief Sadeq Larijani attending a meeting in Tehran on September 4, 2014. AFP

London- Tensions and clashes between conservative judiciary chief Ayatollah Sadegh Larijani and moderate President Hassan Rouhani have entered a new phase, with Larijani saying Rouhani has been accused of taking money from jailed tycoon Babak Zanjani.

On Dec. 2, at the specialized meeting of the community of supervision and inspection of the government, ministries, organizations and local governments, Rouhani brought up the issue of Zanjani, who has been sentenced to death for corruption.

“Is it possible for a person to steal $3 billion alone? Whom was he connected to? Who helped him? Who were his partners? What position do they have? How was the oil given to this person? How was the money handed to this person? The judiciary has pursued this matter, and has issued a verdict, but people’s questions remain. Now they want to execute Zanjani.”

“Suppose that he is executed, but what happened to the missing money? What happened to the money that was in the hands of this man, and where did it go?” the president said.

Zanjani, one of Iran’s richest men, was arrested in December 2013 after accusations that he withheld billions in oil revenue belonging to the Oil Ministry.

Rouhani continued at the meeting, “As the representative of the Iranian nation and the person in charge of enforcing the constitution, I state here that in important cases in which billions of dollars’ worth of public assets have been embezzled, people’s questions should be answered, because if they are not answered, we lose a more important thing than the $3 billion … and that is the public’s trust and social capital.”

The Judiciary Chief adopted a harsh stance in response to the president’s remarks.

In a meeting with high-ranking judicial officials on Monday, Larijani said, “We have saved face for some people, because Babak Zanjani said a lot of things.”

Of note, Larijani and Rouhani particularly in recent months have repeatedly traded barbs over various issues.

Larijani added in his address, “Babak Zanjani said that he aided the president’s campaign in the 2013 presidential election with millions of dollars in contributions. We don’t consider his words as completely true. He says a lot of things and discusses a lot of claims. If we wanted to pursue these things, we should have summoned the persons who were related to these issues.”

On Tuesday, presidential adviser Akbar Torkan denied, in an interview, the allegations about Zanjani having financially backed Rouhani’s presidential campaign, saying, “We are ready to announce our expenses in the presidential election providing that other candidates announce whom they got money from and where they spent it.”

On the same day, in a meeting with members of the parliamentary planning and budget commission, Rouhani reacted to Larijani’s words.

He said, “People’s interests can’t be protected by beating around the bush and imprudence. Everybody must act within his power and duties and respond to public opinion. The judiciary also bears a very heavy responsibility in this regard and should be responsive.”

For his part, Government Spokesman Mohammad Baqer Nobakht said that the nation expects a decisive action from the Judiciary in regards to returning the resources to the public treasury.