The Shame Game: Rivals Accuse Leading Clerics of Massive Financial Corruption

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Tehran is abuzz with revelations from a regime insider about financial corruption of mind-boggling proportions by key figures of the ruling theocracy, including leading clerics. The whistle-blowing signals an escalation of factional feuding never before seen in the past three decades of the ayatollahs' regime.

The cycle of name-and-shame, with opposing factions alternately spilling the beans on each other, is spiraling out of control. The charges of massive financial fraud now out in the open first surfaced in a recent speech by Abbas Palizar, a member of the Investigative Committee of the Majlis (Parliament). He accused 44 of the most senior ruling clerics and officials of the regime not just of robbing it blind, but also of plotting the physical elimination of their rivals. He divulged information indicating that some of the plane crashes of recent years resulting in the deaths of several cabinet ministers and high-ranking Revolutionary Guards commanders were not accidents.

Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei quickly caught on to the seriousness of this new round of infighting. Seeking to slow its impact on the regime's disintegration from within, he devoted a good portion of recent public speeches to calls for unity, while expressing implicit support for Palizar. Khamenei keeps warning, to no avail, about the “enemy” lurking in the shadows, waiting to strike at the opportune moment. To be sure, what he is really calling for is the absolute obedience of all lesser factions in favor of the ruling one, which is effectively the political embodiment of the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) and its military, security, political and financial interests.

Palizar's revelations are all the more significant because he is a close ally of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and the IRGC. Traditionally, when the notorious IRGC gets involved in name-and-shame, it quickly turns into name-shame-purge-and-eliminate. This may very well be a prelude to the physical purge of rivals or even disobedient allies. The rival faction fired back, as Palizar is reportedly detained on June 11, 2008, on a wide range of charges including "spreading rumor."

The names named in the massive financial corruption scandal are: Ayatollah Imami Kashani, a member of the Guardians ýCouncil and Tehran's acting Friday prayer leader; Ayatollah Mohammad Yazdi, a member of the Guardians Council and Assembly of Experts and former head of the ýjudiciary; Ayatollah Makarem Shirazi, a very high-ranking cleric who is also a source of religious emulation; and (to no one's surprise) former president and long-time big shot Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani and his family.

The new phase of purge-and-eliminate, which began just before the March Parliamentary election, can be expected to worsen as the movement for democracy increases its pressure on ruling figures. Protesters are making inroads on college campuses, and strikes and protests have become commonplace in many factories and workshops in Iran.

Meanwhile world opposition to Tehran's continued nuclear defiance is expected to result in the tightening of UN and EU sanctions. The implications for the ruling regime are dire. At the same time, the US-Iraq security agreement to be signed this summer has set off alarm bells in Tehran, where the ayatollahs see it as a roadblock to their incursions into Iraq. Iraqi and American officials openly talk about Iran's campaign to torpedo this agreement, harshly criticized by just about everybody, from Khamenei and Ahmadinejad, to Hashemi Rafsanjani and Ali Larijani, the new Speaker of the Parliament.

The international indignation with Tehran has been fueled by recent revelations in London by the opposition coalition National Council of Resistance of Iran. According to the NCRI, Iran has allocated $2.5 billion to fund its proxy terror network in Iraq. The Daily Telegraph report on the NCRI's revelations said Khamenei earmarked the funds for the IRGC's infamous Qods Force.

The NCRI spokesman also told the paper that the regime's weaponry program is focusing on “powerful explosive devices that are capable of piercing impenetrable armour…It is not just Iraq that Iran is using as a springboard for its attacks against the West, now the weapons are going to Afghanistan too, as part of Iran's threat to the West." The daily adds: “To ensure its production is not vulnerable to attack [Iran] has spread manufacture across three secret facilities. The NCRI identified 16 training centres for insurgents and 51 secret smuggling routes across Iran's borders.”

The internal disintegration of the ruling regime, rise of anti-government protests, setback in Iraq and international sanctions targeting its nuclear agenda, are all dynamically intertwined. But the core component of a continuing downward spiral for the regime, vital to the realization of democratic change, is the role of the democratic opposition movement.

The key to the success of democracy in Iran is to empower the Iranian people to take matters into their own hands, and the key to doing that is to untie the hands of their main opposition group. European Parliament Vice President Dr. Alejo Vidal-Quadras told the European Parliament in early June, "The National Council of Resistance of Iran, chaired by Mrs. Rajavi is the only hope, is the only solution, is the most direct, clean and cost effective way to bring democracy and freedom to the Iranian people and to free the international community of the threat that the present tyrannical regime in Tehran represents." Many in the United States Congress have already endorsed Dr. Quadras's view.

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Alireza Jafarzadeh is the author of The Iran Threat: President Ahmadinejad and the Coming Nuclear Crisis (Palgrave: February 2008).

Jafarzadeh has revealed Iran's terrorist network in Iraq and its terror training camps since 2003. He first disclosed the existence of the Natanz uranium enrichment facility and the Arak heavy water facility in August 2002.

Until August 2003, Jafarzadeh acted for a dozen years as the chief congressional liaison and media spokesman for the U.S. representative office of Iran's parliament in exile, the National Council of Resistance of Iran.

Alireza Jafarzadeh, the deputy director of the Washington office of the National Council of Resistance of Iran, is credited with exposing Iranian nuclear sites in Natanz and Arak in 2002, triggering International Atomic Energy Agency inspections. He is the author of "The Iran Threat" (Palgrave MacMillan: 2008). His email is, and is on twitter @A_Jafarzadeh.