On March 13, Hamid Baqaee, Iran's former vice president, and one of the closest confidants of former President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, was arrested to serve a 15-year prison term on charges of embezzlement and the illegal transaction of a fund (3,766,000 Euros). According to the judiciary, the fund had been given to him by the Guardian of the Islamic Revolution (GIR) to be distributed to African leaders.
Two days after Baqaee’s arrest, on March 15, Isfandyar Rahim Mashaee, another close ally of Ahmadinejad, in a symbolic move, burnt a copy of judiciary’s verdict against Baqaee outside the British Embassy. He stated that the verdict had been issued in the direction of the desire of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth of Britain. Referring to the British foreign minister’s latest visit to Tehran in December 2017, Mashaee argued that the verdict was part of a British conspiracy to pave the ground for the detention of Ahmadinejad in order to make Iranians despair of any fundamental and substantial reform, without which the Iranian political system cannot survive. However, two days later on March 17, Mashaee was also detained.
Accusing the Larijani family of collaborating with Britain is not a new trend. For the last few months, Ahmadinejad and his cronies have been claiming that Zahra Larijani, Ayatollah Sadeq Larijani’s daughter, was caught red-handed spying for the British Embassy in Tehran. But, now Ahmadinejad’s team has taken a step further and is now directly labeling the entire Iranian judiciary as a British colony.
As far as the distribution of the said fund among African leaders is concerned, no doubt, Iran’s foreign policy during Ahmadinejad’s term (2005-2013) was Afro-Latino-centric. Iran was very close to many poor African and Latin American countries, and the GIR was pursuing a deep-state project in those regions. Yet, Baqaee’s case is a clear example of how badly the Iranian establishment is handling its problems. Like an unskilled beautician, as it were, it always injures the eye when it wants to trim the eyebrows. Since 2009, slogans such as “Neither Gaza nor Lebanon; My life is for Iran!” (na Ghazeh na Lobnan; Janam faday e Iran) or “Leave Syria; think about us!” (Suriyeh ra raha kon; fikri beh hil e ma kon) are chanted at every anti-establishment demonstration. The Iranian leaders in general and the GIR in particular are under huge public pressure to stop wasting public money in other countries. Amid such deep public resentment, the judiciary has provided the anti-establishment forces with a solid case against the GIR.
Furthermore, according to the court verdict, the said amount was given to Baqaee only a few days after he had quit his position as vice president. Therefore, the Iranian public is also wondering why such a huge amount was given to somebody who was now irrelevant as of the time of giving. In fact, this question was raised also by Baqaee himself. He wrote to Qasem Suleimani, the commander of the GIR Quds Force (responsible for military and clandestine operations outside Iran) and asked him to clarify it. It is necessary to note that Baqaee admits that he received the disputed fund, but his argument is that he only acted as an intermediary in its delivery to Ahmadinejad to be spent for certain cultural activities.
That said, anyone who has a rough idea of corruption knows that corrupt politicians never wait for the last moment. They start engaging in corruption as soon as they take over a position. Therefore, if we begin with the premise that Baqaee is a corrupt politician, then there must be a number of other cases of corruption he is involved in. Consequently, the key questions is: why has the judiciary taken on this particular case for his trial?
To answer this question, one would need to have a clear understanding of an informal classification of politicians within the Iranian establishment. There are two groups of politicians: “Khudi” (conformist) and “Ghair e Khudi” (non-conformist). The first category includes those who are considered trustworthy. They have close relationships with and are relatively open to each other. To put it another way, they are either jointly involved in corruption or do not hide their corruption from each other. The second category includes those who might be occupying certain positions but are not trusted, and as such, are viewed with suspicion.
Ahmadinejad and his cronies were tacitly of the first category, and were in fact among the most trusted elements. Besides, they were in power for eight years, and thus would know who was doing what. Also being presciently cautious, they were careful not to engage in unilateral corruption. For instance, a few months ago, when the judiciary accused Baqaee for misusing several hundreds of gold coins, he immediately provided a list of people who had received the coins, most of whom are close allies of the Supreme Leader. Among the recipients were Hassan Firoozabadi (senior military advisor to the Supreme Leader), Ibrahim Raeesi, Hussain Tayyib (the head of the IRG Intelligence Organization), and several other top officials.
In fact, that is why Baqaee has always demanded a public trial. But, while the judiciary has rejected his demand on the pretext of national expediency, the Iranian national TV aired a documentary on his financial corruption right after his arrest. Interestingly, what is shown in the documentary is not included in the legal charges presented against Baqaee in the court. For instance, in the documentary, a dozen people testify that they collaborated with Baqaee in committing corruption. Technically speaking, these people could have appeared before the court as witnesses. But the establishment preferred to take them to a TV studio rather than to the court. Had the documentary been aired before Baqaee’s arrest, he would definitely have come with a list of beneficiaries.
While Ahmadinejad is not ready to play the silent scapegoat, the Iranian judiciary wants to crush him without letting him talk about his corruption partners. The judiciary has tried to take advantage of Ahmadinejad’s confrontation with the Supreme Leader. But as noted in one of our previous articles, the Supreme Leader has his own considerations. Now, the judiciary has come up with a new strategy to smash Ahmadinejad indirectly by pushing him towards a confrontation with the GIR.
Ahmadinejad developed some differences with the GIR commanders in June 2011, when he implicitly regarded them “smuggling brothers”, referring to the illegal operation of several ports, used by the GIR to import luxurious items to the country. But he soon came to terms with the GIR, and even his statement was removed from his official website. In the ongoing fight between Ahmadinejad and the judiciary, on the other hand, the GIR has only distanced itself from the former without siding with the latter.
But now Ahmadinejad and the GIR have found themselves in the middle of an unexpected battle. In his previous letters to the Supreme Leader, Ahmadinejad questioned the trial procedures and the neutrality of the chief of the judiciary. But in his latest letters, released after the arrest of his allies, he is accusing the GIR’s intelligence branch of torturing Baqaee physically and psychologically. He also wrote a letter to Commander Suleimani to explain the disputed fund; he would otherwise release the details of his working relations with the GIR. But, so far, the GIR appears unsure as to whether to side with Ahmadinejad or the judiciary. Commander Suleimani is silent, and the GIR Spokesperson Ramzan Sharif has also reacted in a very diplomatic way. He only said: “[as far as I know] judiciaries issue their verdicts on the basis of solid evidence and strong proofs.”
In a nutshell, so far, Ahmadinejad has been fighting only in one front (against the judiciary); but from now onwards, it seems that he has to fight in two fronts: one with the judiciary and the other one with the GIR. He might lose in the end but all the while he will give a tough time to the establishment and tarnish its reputation.
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