Iran's new interior minister has raised an uproar among lawmakers and Iranian media over an apparently fake claim that he holds an honorary doctorate from Britain's Oxford University. To back his case, he's shown off a degree certificate riddled with spelling and grammar mistakes.
Oxford issued a statement Wednesday denying it ever awarded Ali Kordan an honorary doctorate of law, as he claimed to parliament before it approved his appointment to the post earlier this month.
The Interior Ministry put out a copy of the degree, with an Oxford seal and dated June 2000, aiming to prove its authenticity.
But in the certificate, "entitled" is misspelled "intitled," and it says Kordan was granted the degree "to be benefitted from its scientific privileges."
The clumsily worded document says Kordan "has shown a great effort in preparing educational materials and his research in the domain of comparative law,that has opened a new chapter,not only in our university,but, to our knowledge,in this country" — leaving out spaces after all but one of the commas. It was published in several Iranian papers this week.
Oxford said in its statement that it "has no record of Mr. Ali Kordan receiving an honorary doctorate or any other degree from the university." It added that the three professors whose alleged signatures are on the certificate have all held posts at the university at some stage but none of them work in the field of law and none would sign degree certificates.
The alleged fake has been heavily covered in several Iranian newspapers and Web sites, and parliament speaker Ali Larijani on Monday ordered the body's education committee to look into the degree's authenticity.
The Tehran prosecutors office announced Wednesday that the Alef news Web site, which has carried several reports questioning the degree, has been "banned based on complaints by legal entities," the state news agency IRNA reported. The office said the site had no work license and did not link the ban to the interior minister issue. The site could not be accessed in Iran on Wednesday.
"The Interior Ministry does not have the right to threaten the media for questioning the authenticity of the claim," parliament member Ahmed Tavakoli was quoted as saying on Alef. He said the "truth of such an important issue must be made clear." Interior Ministry officials could not be reached Wednesday for comment on the Oxford statement.
During his confirmation debate, numerous lawmakers argued Kordan was unqualified for the ministry post, some claiming that his Oxford degree was a fake. Kordan was approved Aug. 5 by a relatively slim margin of around 160 of the 269 lawmakers present, a reflection of the concerns. The Interior Ministry runs the country's police and oversees elections.
Kordan was considered a compromise candidate between hardline President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and Larijani, who is a conservative but seen as a rival to the president. Kordan was Larijani's deputy when Larijani held a previous post as head of the state broadcasting service, and Kordan later went on to serve as deputy oil minister.
Ahmadinejad defended Kordan amid the debates, dismissing degrees in general as "torn paper" not necessary for serving the people.
An Interior Ministry statement this week insisted the degree was authentic, calling claims otherwise "destructive" and "insulting" and urging media to refrain from "lying and suspicious reports."
Tavakoli and other parliament opponents of Kordan have not called for his resignation. Hamid Rasai, a lawmaker who backs Kordan, was quoted in several Iranian papers this week saying parliament approved Kordan despite the degree dispute, but added that the minister should "remove the ambiguities" over the issue.