Najafi, Mayor of Tehran, محمد علی نجفی شهردار تهران
Najafi, Mayor of Tehran, محمد علی نجفی شهردار تهران

The story was bizarre, but yet simple and straightforward by all Iranian standards: The former mayor of Tehran killed his second wife, disappeared for about seven hours and finally turned himself in to the police.

This was the simple and straightforward part of the sad story of a well-known Iranian politician, MIT educated Mohamad Ali Najafi, 68, who served briefly as Tehran's mayor in 2018 before resigning for "personal reasons" in less than 6 months. His career included posts such as the Minister of Education and vice-president in charge of the Planning and Budget Organization.

When he stepped down as mayor of Tehran, it was not clear if it was for his "health problems," as he declared to the media, or if it was under pressure from his political rivals, as the press speculated.

However, it was soon revealed that the reason was altogether different. Najafi had taken a second wife, a young woman named Mitra Ostad, and romantic pictures of the couple leaked to social and traditional media, harming Najafi's image and effectively putting an end to his political career. Polygamy is not illegal for men in Iran, who can have as many as four officially wed wives and as many temporary marriages as they can afford.

Murder investigation

After his resignation as mayor, Najafi disappeared from the public scene until May 28, when the murder took place. Interviews with Najafi at the police station showed him unshaken. Well-dressed, he was seen enjoying tea with the police chief while a state TV reporter emptied Najafi's gun, counted the bullets and explained the murder in dramatic detail. Later videos showed Najafi shaking hands with the police chief and others who were bending before him in full respect. They escorted him out of the office without handcuffs, but wearing his politician's smile.

Overnight, the morning papers released updated versions of the story on the internet with more details, some of which contradicted initial reporting. For instance, it became clear the young woman was not killed in the bedroom as was earlier said, but was murdered in the bathroom.

Najafi says that he only wanted to scare his wife, but somehow he fired five times and two bullets hit the victim, one ripping through her heart. Some reports say he first shot one bullet at the tiled bathroom wall, but it ricocheted and hit Najafi's leg. However, there is no sign of such an incident, as Najafi walked comfortably and normally past the cameras.

Also it is not clear whether Najafi turned himself in, or was arrested near the Iranian Bureau of Investigation, in downtown Tehran. Different reports give varying accounts. Some say Najafi went to Qom to consult with top clerics before turning himself in.

The only political reaction came from another former mayor of Tehran, and the leader of the political party to which Najafi belonged — the Executives of Construction. Gholamhossein Karbaschi said Najafi should not have been elected mayor in the first place because he was not ready for it.

Media coverage

However, the most interesting part of the story is the way the media behaved. The state TV's news channel gave extensive coverage to the event, broadcasting live from police headquarters. The news agencies and newspapers' coverage was even more extensive. The papers published impressive pictures and wrote headlines that, as a whole, can be translated as: "We don't know what happened."

This is not how major media in Iran, all controlled by one or another state entity, cover scandals or sensational news. Usually, officials say little, give very limited access to media to investigate, and even name individuals in major corruption or murder cases just by the first letters of their names.

Some people on social media expressed disbelief that a suspect could be interviewed on camera before prosecutors made an indictment.

Social media users were highly active with adrenaline-charged posts that pointed fingers at the intelligence agencies, accusing them of conspiracy while also lashing out at state TV and the press for politically incorrect interviews and lack of fairness. Some social media activists went out of their way to prove there was something suspicious in the story.

As investigations are ongoing and the truth is not yet clear, the story, once again, showed that the Iranian public do not trust official accounts about any story, even a family drama.