Fact Check: Have Iran’s MPs been Falsely Accused of Graft and Rent-Seeking?
On 1 December 2015, Farhad Bashiri, MP for Pakdasht, spoke to the media to defend Members of Parliament from charges of corruption and graft. “People and society think that MPs are using rent-seeking and graft and so forth, but this is not true. Those who mention this are trying to make a fuss in the media.”
Bashiri’s controversial statement comes at a time when candidates and MPs are gearing up for parliamentary elections next month. Bashiri spoke on Majlis Day, which is set aside to honour the establishment of constitutional government in Iran. It is also the martyrdom day of Hassan Modarres, a notable supporter of the 1906 Iranian Constitutional Revolution and former teacher of Supreme Leader Khomeini, now held up by the Iranian state as a “brave and incorruptible” symbol of Parliament. This might be another reason why the reputation of the Majlis was at the forefront of his mind.
Graft is prevalent across organizations and government entities in Iran, which is attributable variously to insufficient oversight, weak regulatory bodies, and the lack of an independent media. In many cases the judiciary is also unwilling or unable to pursue fraud cases against institutions or individuals holding political, military or religious power. Graft occurs when those in power use their connections and networks for their own benefit, such as exploiting illegal access to funds and confidential information, or when public funds are intentionally misdirected in order to maximize benefits to private interests. This form of fraud leads to benefits for only a few people and contributes to a corrupt economy.
Graft Among MPs in Iran
One of the most obvious examples of graft enjoyed by certain MPs is apparent in a letter that Mohammadreza Rahimi, former President Ahmadinejad’s vice president, wrote to his former boss after Rahimi’s sentence to prison on corruption charges. Rahimi announced that during the eighth parliamentary elections, a total of 10.2 billion Rials ($340,000) in dirty money was distributed to certain MPs and candidates aligned with Ahmadinejad’s government. Documents and copies of checks issued to 170 candidates of the eighth Parliament are in court records. He stressed that even during the upcoming tenth parliamentary elections, there are ‘planning committees’ organizing similar financial support for candidates and MPs in the conservative party.
MPs also receive additional benefits from the government. For example, in 2010 when many banks refused loans to ordinary customers to purchase cars, MPs and their relatives were offered two options: a monthly loan to buy a Peugeot Persia, a large family car, or a monthly allowance of 1 million Rials for “transportation costs,” both of which met with opposition from some lawmakers, who believed they should be provided a car with more features.
Corruption and Embezzlement
Recent efforts to fight administrative and financial corruption have exposed cases of bank managers, MPs, and judicial, security and intelligence retirees involved in the 20.8 trillion Rial privatization of unregistered facilities. In November 2011, Gholam-Hossein Eje’i, Iran’s Attorney General, accused a number of MPs of embezzling 30 trillion Rials. A few weeks later, during a press conference, Eje’i, announced, “Four MPs have been summoned to court as accused. The son of an MP has been arrested on allegations of corruption.”
In November 2013, it was finally confirmed that three MPs were charged with the embezzlement of 30 trillion Rials and will be prosecuted in Tehran Penal Court. One of the accused was acquitted and two were sentenced to fines and confiscation of assets. The names of the accused MPs were not officially released. However, their misuse of power and collaboration with other defendants over the embezzlement of 30 trillion Rials was officially confirmed.
Later, in 2015, additional disclosures further exposed two other MPs from the Ninth Parliament. Safar Naimiraz, the MP from Astara and Kamal Al-din Pormozan, the MP from Ardabil both accused each other, on the floor of Parliament, of illegal stock market speculation. The Attorney General’s Office has not yet exposed any further detail on this file. However, it was not the first time that charges of speculation were highlighted in corruption cases.
Drug Money in Iranian Elections
Apart from such cases, Abdolreza Rahmani, the Minister of Interior, uncovered cases of dirty money from drug trafficking being used for election campaigns. He said that “money from drug trafficking has allowed dirty money to enter domestic politics.” Minister Rahmani’s statement received wide news coverage, and he was asked to provide an explanation to Parliament. Addressing Parliament, he said that “the wrongdoings of the past have allowed dirty money to buy political power in the country. Given the Supreme Leader’s serious warnings against such developments, this is a matter to be taken seriously.” His confrontational statement caused outrage in Parliament and, under enormous pressure, he withdrew his claims. He said in a press conference that his statement in Parliament was only a warning, and that the media distorted and politicized his message.
Mohammad Ashrafi Isfahani, Head of the Administrative Investigation of Violations at the Presidential Administration, announced that MP Hamid Resai’s file has been investigated by the Presidential Administration. He has been indicted and is deprived of government responsibilities for five years. Resai has denounced the verdict but confirms the accusations.
Some MPs admit and emphasize the prevalence of graft. Hossein Sadr has stated that it is impossible to be an MP and not see the occurrence of corruption. He claimed that many MPs have accumulated tremendous amount of wealth overnight through fraud and conspiracy.
Considering the number of confirmed cases of corruption and graft by some members of parliament, we rate the claims of Farhad Bashiri, MP for Pakdasht, as “false.”