The Intelligence Organization of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) arrested Ali Rastegar Sorkhei, the former managing director of Bank Mellat, on July 19. Rastegar Sorkhei was recently removed after leaked documents exposed that managers and executives at state-run companies were receiving exorbitant salaries and misusing government funds.
According to Tasnim News Agency, Rastegar Sorkhei was arrested for “activities in an organized group of banking corruption.” His deputy was also arrested, though his name was not provided in the Tasnim report. IRGC intelligence referred to Rastegar Sorkhei and his deputy as the “primary members” of this group.
The head of the IRGC, Mohammad Ali Jaffari, said July 20 at a press conference that one of IRGC’s intelligence projects is to “monitor and review” economic corruption. He said that when the IRGC provided the judiciary with Rastegar Sorkhei’s case, the arrest warrant was issued.
Jaffari said that while Rastegar Sorkhei is “certainly” linked to the high government salaries scandal in Iran, he was arrested for “larger economic corruption.” He did not elaborate on what that was. When asked if other arrests would be made, Jaffari said, “Other officials and individuals were involved.”
Another report by Tasnim News Agency alleged that Rastegar Sorkhei using government funds to stay in presidential suites at luxury hotels in Dubai. The report also stated that Rastegar Sorkhei “is close to Hossein Fereydoun,” President Hassan Rouhani’s brother and his special adviser, who is also at the center of a number of corruption allegations.
Conservative media have reported that some of the officials who were receiving the exorbitant salaries at the state-run banks, insurance companies and health-care institutions were hired after lobbying by Fereydoun. The latest scandal engulfing Fereydoun involves a doctoral scholarship. A statement released July 20 by a university scholarship association accused Fereydoun of using access to the administration and the Ministry of Science, Research and Technology, which is responsible for the universities in Iran, to enter university for his doctoral degree. The statement asked that the ministry be held accountable for allowing Fereydoun to take advantage of government access like this.
Minister of Science, Research and Technology Mohammad Farhadi denied the allegations in the statement July 20. “Hossein Fereydoun took an official and legal route to enter Shahid Beheshti University,” said Farhadi to Mehr News Agency. He added that Fereydoun took his tests in 2013 and was officially accepted.
The attacks on Fereydoun have been compared to attacks on former President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s close adviser Esfandiar Rahim Mashaei, who served as the president's chief of staff from 2009 to 2013. Though the types of accusations may differ, both advisers have been an endless source of controversy for the presidents. In Iran, some opponents who may not want to cause damage to the institution of the presidency seek rather to remove the president’s closest advisers in order to weaken the president.
While Rouhani took swift action to remove the heads of companies where managers were receiving the high salaries, the pressure on the president is unlikely to let up 10 months before the presidential elections. Mohammad Jafari Montazeri, Iran’s prosecutor general, asked Economic Affairs and Finance Minister Ali Teyebnia to provide the judiciary with a list of the government employees receiving high salaries. Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei had also previously asked officials to remove the offending executives and restore the funds that were taken.
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