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Unprecedented Report Details Official Corruption in Iran

  • Payam Yazdian

An unprecedented and highly sensitive investigative report prepared for Iran's Parliament has detailed instances of corruption throughout the country's judiciary. But in an apparent political tug-of-war between rival Iranian leaders, the nearly 200-page document has been suppressed and never released to the public. VOA has obtained a copy and Payam Yazdian of VOA's Persian News Network reports exclusively on the document's findings. Click here to see PNN's series of reports on this issue in Persian.

Iran's constitution authorizes the country's parliament to conduct investigations and, based on this right, several Iranian parliamentary deputies in 2004 requested a probe of alleged corruption by Iran's judiciary. Investigators working for the parliament's Judicial Inquiry and Review Committee, many of them deputies themselves, subsequently reported a variety of corrupt practices.

According to the report, these range from cases of judicial officials conspiring with convicted drug dealers who received reduced jail sentences or were allowed to escape custody, to instances of apparent profiteering by judicial officials who collaborated with private businesses for personal gain.

Among the cases cited in the extensive report: justice officials appeared to have turned a blind eye to a problem-plagued construction project through the mountains north of the Iranian capital, Tehran --- an expansion of the Kandovan tunnel that was originally built 70 years ago. The report notes construction took 10 years and came in way over budget. The report says there were no legal consequences.

In another scandal, the report cites the case of Almakaseb, a large state-run trading company headed by Vaez Tabasi, son of one of Iran's most important religious leaders. The company was partially privatized seven years ago in a process that the report says was not transparent and that $100 million went unaccounted for. Several courts heard cases related to the financial losses, but the company and its officials were not penalized.

The Parliamentary probe also found judges were allowed to purchase new Iranian Khodro automobiles at the reduced rates normally charged for vehicles that came off the assembly lines with defects. The auto manufacturer then allowed the sub-standard cars to be sold to the public at full, new car prices.

In another case, the report says a drug dealer named Ali Azadi was arrested with 95 kilograms of opium and 40 kilos of morphine in his possession. He was convicted and sentenced to 10 years in prison, but after two years was granted a short prison furlough and never returned. Judiciary officials did not inform the police of his escape. Six months later the dealer was arrested again, according to the report, and this time with 300 kilograms of opium.

The report even documents such problems as the sale of university entrance exam questions, a practice that allowed unqualified students to secure coveted university admission slots. The report found that none of those identified as perpetrators ever faced punishment. In one instance, a judge ruled that the exam questions that were sold were fake, thereby allowing a suspect to go free.

The names of top Iranian political and religious leaders allegedly linked to corruption are not mentioned in the report obtained by VOA, which Iranian sources say appears to have been heavily edited to protect reputations.

However, Abbas Palizdar, who has been identified in state-controlled Iranian media as a key investigator for the parliamentary probe, discussed the findings in speeches at Iranian universities earlier this year. He asserted that some of the country's top leaders were implicated.

Those mentioned by Palizdar include Ayatollah Mohammad Emami Kashani, a member of the powerful Council of Guardians; Hojatoleslam Ali Akbar Nategh Noori, head of special investigations in the office of Iran's supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei; former Iranian President Ayatollah Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani; Mohammad Rafighdoost, former head of the Islamic Revolutionary Guards; and former intelligence minister Hojatoleslam Ali Fallahian.

Palizdar was detained in June after speaking out and has not been heard from since. Some members of the investigative committee have denied knowing him even though state-controlled Iranian news organizations have confirmed his official involvement in the probe.

Palizdar had previously been identified publicly as a supporter of Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. Mr. Ahmadinejad had in the past threatened to expose officials involved in corruption.

But Western experts on Iran interpreted this as a challenge to conservative backers of supreme leader Khamenei, and before Palizdar's allegations could spread, he and several associates were arrested and the parliamentary report suppressed.

Palizdar had claimed those who were corrupt were protected by the head of Iran's Judicial Branch.

The report says Judiciary officials did not respond to the requests of the committee, ignoring most of the 300 questions the panel submitted.

Ayatollah Seyyed Mahmoud Hashemi Shahrudi, the head of the Judiciary since 1999, wrote a letter to the Investigative Committee, claiming security officials within the Judiciary did not have to answer to parliament.

The problem of corruption in Iran has been studied in the West. In 2007, the international private watchdog group, Transparency International, ranked Iran 131st out of 179 countries in its corruption index. The conservative Heritage Foundation, a U.S. based policy study group, asserted that in Iran: Corruption is perceived as widespread. Graft is extensive and viewed as growing worse by the day. The anti-corruption agency has less than 1,000 inspectors to monitor the 2.3 million full-time civil servants and numerous government contractors who control most of Iran's economy.

The U.S. State Department has also described official corruption in Iran as persistent. In its 2007 Human Rights report, the State Department stated: Corruption was a problem in the police forces and revolutionary courts and to a lesser extent in the criminal and civil courts.

Meanwhile, in Iran, a top official recently has publicly praised the Judiciary for its role in fighting corruption. According to Iran's official IRNA news agency, Ayatollah Ahmad Jannati, speaking to thousands of worshipers at the central campus of Tehran University, voiced appreciation for the Judiciary, the Intelligence Ministry and the Disciplinary Forces for arresting, putting to trial, and executing murderers, rapists and drug traffickers. He was quoted as saying: This decisive move was praiseworthy, since the roots of corruption need to be dried.

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