Controversial Son of Former President Rafsanjani Arrested upon Return to Tehran

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Yesterday BBC Persian broadcast footage of Mehdi Hashemi, son of former President Rafsanjani, who continues to head the Expediency Discernment Council, at Dubai International Airport en route to Tehran, stating “I will speak in Iran”. Interestingly enough, Iranian news agencies proved to be heavily reliant on BBC reporting of Mehdi Hashemi’s return after it was thought he might be a no show, after his sister Faezeh Hashemi had been arrested earlier that day. Itwas announced that Ms. Hashemi would begin her 6 month jail term, which had been issued in January of this year, and upheld upon appeal.

Last night Fars News published photos of Mehdi Hashemi returning to Tehran’s Imam Khomeini airport, accompanied by his brother and sister, Yaser and Fatemeh. Upon arrival Mehdi was met by a representative of the Public Prosecutor and told to present himself to the latter’s office within 24 hours.

The charges are reported to be numerous, and range from his alleged role in instigating and funding opposition to the ruling elite (in contrast to the establishment as a whole) and Ahmadinejad government specifically, in the turbulent aftermath of the 2009 re-election, which saw the incumbent return to the presidency, and Supreme Leader Khamenei further tighten his grip on power, to millions of dollars’ worth of corruption.

The latest news according to Bashgah-e khabarnegaran and Mehr News is that Mehdi Hashemi this morning, accompanied by his lawyer Alizadeh Tabatabai, attended the Prosecutor’s Office of “Shahid-e moqaddas” as had been requested. A court order for his arrest was issued and he was apprised of the charges, after which he was detained and sent to Evin Prison, while his case is further investigated.

Interestingly, the Prosecutor’s Office, also announced the implementation of Reza Tajik’s sentence, for his verbally assailing Faezeh Hashemi and her family, in particular her absent father, as she exited the Shah Abdolazim Shrine in Rey last year. Tajik was sentenced to 8 months in jail and 50 lashes.

Farda News speculates on whether Mehdi Hashemi’s return was linked to the upcoming 2013 presidential election. “The first question is why Mehdi Hashemi has returned to Iran on the cusp of the presidential election? Why didn’t he come last year? It seems the date for his return and its broadcast tells the tale of extensive planning that must be considered in political analyses and actions. Without doubt, on the cusp of the presidential election in which political speculation is heating up, his presence can disrupt the logical political approach and direct minds in another direction”.

Some Background

Raja News, close to allies of Ahmadinejad, but also affiliated with members of the radical neoconservative Endurance Front has dubbed Mehdi Hashemi “the master key of the 2009 sedition”. His fleeing the country soon after the election is regarded by Raja News, but also numerous other Conservative outlets as only incriminating him further.

The Raja News article quotes an interview with the award winning Iranian film director, Mohsen Makhmalbaf, who fled Iran after the 2009 election and provisionally acted as opposition candidate Mir-Hossein Mousavi’s spokesman, in which the he alludes to the pivotal role played by former President Rafsanjani’s family, in ensuring he take a “more moderate position” as opposed to taking a more Conservative one, and thereby distancing himself from 2009 unrest. The article also quotes a former Rafsanjani advisor at length testifying to extent of Mehdi’s influence upon his father and the son’s inability to accept his father’s 2005 election loss, when he had contested the presidency.

Mehdi Hashemi has also been accused by two former employees, Masoud Bastani and Hamzeh Karami, who were themselves put on trial after the 2009 presidential election. They both accuse Hashemi of using his position as Chief of the Board of Governors of Iran’s largest university, Islamic Azad University, to launder public funds to bankroll his political activities during the 2005 presidential election, in which his father ran. Hashemi denied the allegations in absentia.

Other serious corruption allegations continue to overshadow Mehdi Hashemi’s return to Tehran, and have been reported by Fars News. The article alleges Hashemi received $15m in bribes from the Norwegian oil firm, Statoil. In 2004 Statoil was fined  $2.9m by Norway’s economic crime investigator Okokrim, for bribery of a front company, Horton Company, linked to Hashemi in order to secure contracts to develop the 6th, 7th and 8th phases of South Pars gas field.

Mehdi Hashemi was also ordered in November 2011 by Ontario’s Superior Court of Justice to pay £3.7m in “torture” damages, after he was found to be implicated in the imprisonment and torture of a business rival.

Back in 2005 and before he became the Iranian neoconservative’ public enemy number 1, Mehdi Hashemi told Al-Monitor’s Barbara Slavin that if his father won the 2005 presidential election he intended to turn the position of Supreme Leader into the equivalent of the “king of England” i.e. a purely symbolic and ceremonial institution, with no real power. Unfortunately for Mr. Hashemi in 2005 the little-known former Mayor of Tehran, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, won the presidential race by a significant margin, and as they say, “the rest is history”.