The 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? Whom 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 him [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. During the years Iran was under tough US-led sanctions over its nuclear program, he arranged oil deals worth billions of dollars through a network of companies stretching from Turkey to Malaysia to the United Arab Emirates. He amassed a fortune of $10 billion along with debts of a similar scale, the tycoon once told Aseman magazine.
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 $3 billion … and that is the public’s trust and social capital.”
The judiciary chief has adopted a harsh stance in response to the president’s remarks. In a meeting with high-ranking judicial officials Jan. 2, Larijani said, “We have saved face for some [people], because Mr. Babak Zanjani has said a lot of things.”
Larijani added in his address Jan. 2, “Babak Zanjani has 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].”
Larijani continued, “Now that you [Rouhani] are saying we should pursue the behind-the-curtains [issues], I have no problem: We will summon all those [persons] who were named by him [Zanjani], and if necessary, we will detain them to find out what the issue was.”
He added, “They say that … people should know where the money was spent? We're incidentally looking for the same thing to find out where the money was spent. Where is the presidential office’s money spent? We have no problem with … finding out who allowed them to take the highly technical security equipment to the presidential office without informing the security forces. … Where did the money [for buying the equipment] come from?”
One day later, on Jan. 3, in an interview with the Jamaran news site, presidential adviser Akbar Torkan denied 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, “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."