Ahmadinejad’s right-hand man sentenced to prison

The sentencing of Esfandiar Rahim Mashaei may be the final blow to former President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad regaining his spot in the limelight.

al-monitor Iran's President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and First Vice President Esfandiar Rahim Mashaei (L) attend a ceremony in Tehran, Iran, July 22, 2009.  Photo by REUTERS/Yalda Moaiery.

Topics covered

guardian council, hamid baghaei, islamic revolutionary guard corps, national security, prison, mahmoud ahmadinejad, esfandiar rahim mashaei

Sep 13, 2018

Esfandiar Rahim Mashaei, who was once accused of being part of a “deviant current” in the Mahmoud Ahmadinejad administration, has been sentenced to six years and six months for “acting against national security.” He joins Ali Akbar Javanfekr, a former media adviser who was just sentenced to four years in prison, and a handful of other Ahmadinejad-era Cabinet members who received prison sentences.

According to Gholamhossein Ismaeli, chief prosecutor for Tehran province, Mashaei received five years for actions against national security, one year for propaganda against the government and six months for insulting judiciary officials. Ismaeli, who is also head of the appellate court for Tehran province, said the judiciary is still reviewing other charges against Mashaei.

Mashaei did not hire an attorney or defend himself in court, claiming that he did not recognize its authority. Mashaei claims his verdict was predetermined. Video of the court case, which was released Aug. 25 to a number of media outlets and state TV by the judiciary, at one point shows an angry Mashaei throwing his shirt at an individual in the courtroom.

Mashaei served in Ahmadinejad’s first term as head of the Cultural Heritage, Handcrafts and Tourism Organization, a relatively minor role that masks his profound influence on the former hard-line president and their long history. Mashaei was a former intelligence officer in the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps in the province of Kurdistan in the 1980s when he met Ahmadinejad, who was then a local governor. The two have been close since and became related when their children married each other.

The controversy over Mashaei did not erupt until Ahmadinejad’s second term, when Ahmadinejad appointed Mashaei as vice president. Conservative clerics accused Mashaei of promoting a nationalistic Iranian ideology rather than a religious Shiite ideology. Mashaei at one point caused a stir when he claimed that Iranians and Israelis could be friends. He was also accused of promoting a millenarianism that would supplant the clergy.

It is not unclear if Mashaei truly believed in such theories or was seeking broader popularity in a country where religious ideology is the only officially sanctioned ideology that is promoted. Regardless, Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei eventually ordered Mashaei to be removed from the vice presidency. Although Ahmadinejad ultimately obeyed, he immediately appointed Mashaei as his chief of staff and kept the controversial figure within his inner circle.

Accusations that Mashaei had future plans were not unfounded. Accompanied by Ahmadinejad, he registered to run in the 2013 presidential election but was disqualified from running by the Guardian Council. He continued to pop up in online videos alongside the former president and former Vice President Hamid Baghaei. One of Mashaei’s final acts before his arrest was to burn Baghaei’s prison sentence verdict in front of the UK Embassy in Iran. Baghaei was sentenced to prison for 15 years over corruption charges.

Reformist Ghanoon Daily noted that the administration, which called itself the “most pure” in the history of Iran, continues to have its former Cabinet members sentenced to prison. Despite the jubilation in some corners of the Reformist movement, prison sentences for the closest members of former presidents and officials in Iran are not new. Nearly all administrations have suffered similar fates for various reasons. 

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