The banking scandal revolves around wealthy businessman Mahafarid Amir Khosravi, who allegedly forged letters of credit with the help of high-level bank managers. The managers in turn were urged to participate by government officials, according to the Mashreghnews Web site, which is critical of Ahmadinejad. Khosravi is accused of using the money, the equivalent of $2.6 billion, to start a private bank called Aria Bank.
Among those linked to the scandal are some of Iran’s leading politicians, including Ahmadinejad, his opponents have charged. Cabinet ministers, former Revolutionary Guard Corps commanders and the head of the Central Bank are publicly blaming one another for losing billions of dollars to Khosravi, who allegedly built his steel and railroad business empire through his connections with the government.
The bank fraud adds to the pressure on Ahmadinejad that has been growing after a public falling out in April with Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, over the forced resignation of the intelligence minister.
For now, Iran’s powerful Shiite clerical leaders appear to want Ahmadinejad to finish his presidential term, which ends in 2013. But their supporters have started damaging campaigns against the president and his inner circle of advisers.
The attacks focus on Ahmadinejad’s chief of staff, Esfandiar Rahim Mashaei, who is accused of leading a “deviant current” aimed at undermining the influence of the Shiite Muslim clerics who have held sway in Iran since the 1979 Islamic revolution. But Ahmadinejad has strongly defended his adviser and has threatened to step down if Mashaei were arrested.
“The leader [Khamenei] has decided that it’s in the interest of the country if Ahmadinejad serves out his term,” said Amir Mohebbian, a political strategist with close connections to Iran’s leaders. “But at the same time, many people are trying to weaken him.”
Intelligence minister’s role
The banking scandal was brought to light by the intelligence minister, Heidar Moslehi, a Shiite cleric who was forced by Ahmadinejad to resign in April but was then reinstated by the supreme leader. According to the Javan newspaper, which is linked to the Revolutionary Guards, Ahmadinejad’s attempt to fire Moslehi was triggered by an investigation into the embezzlement.
“They wanted to plunder the public treasury,” the newspaper wrote, charging that the group close to Ahmadinejad had been planning to use the money to finance a takeover of Iran’s political system. “Their objective [for firing the intelligence minister] was to destroy the documents related to the embezzlement.”