By Thomas Erdbrink
The Washington Post
Monday, January 17, 2011; 11:26 AM
TEHRAN - An Iranian vice president has lashed out at parliamentarians who have accused him of involvement in an embezzlement scheme, raising the stakes in a months-long standoff between the government and its critics.
The Sharq newspaper, which is critical of the government, said Vice President Mohammed Reza-Rahimi had called prominent parliamentarians "sick.'' Rahimi said those who leveled the accusations were trying to destroy President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's government, which he said is "itself is battling corruption."
Iran's judiciary said in December that it would investigate the charges, first leveled in parliament last year. The subject is being discussed in state television shows and in local media, with pro-government media denying any wrongdoing took place.
The initial accusation was leveled in parliament last April by Elias Naderan, an influential member who has supported Ahmadinejad, who said Rahimi had been incriminated but not arrested in connection with a scheme in which members divided money skimmed off the state coffers.
Corruption by state officials is a taboo subject in Iran, but Ahmadinejad's administration has often accused previous governments of having stolen public money. If Rahimi would be found guilty, it would seriously undermine Ahmadinejad's domestic image as a "clean" politician.
Last week, Ahmadinejad publicly defended Rahimi, who is the highest ranking among four Iranian vice presidents, all of whom are presidential appointees. "Mr. Rahimi is one of the modest and revolutionary public servants. These are immoral and political claims," Ahmadinejad told the semi-official Fars news agency. Rahimi has said he will press charges against those accusing him.
But those critical of the administration do not agree. Emad Afrough, a former lawmaker who has in the past supported Ahmadinejad's government, said he hoped there would be a court case against the vice president, now that parliament and judiciary are both publicly discussing the charges against Rahimi.
"Bringing those in power accused of embezzlement to court will be a golden page in the history of the Islamic Republic," Afrough said.