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Iran: Probing The Probers

Supreme Leader Khamenei has called for the elimination of corruption (AFP) By Bill Samii and Fatemeh Aman

An international corruption-monitoring organization has reported that businesspeople and analysts both in and outside Iran see the country as profusely corrupt. Inside Iran, meanwhile, there is criticism of the failure to eliminate corruption, even though a government agency was created for this very function four years ago. There have also been allegations of a cover-up, and one parliamentarian is calling for an investigation of this agency.

Iran ranked 88th out of 159 countries surveyed in Transparency International's "Corruption Perceptions Index 2005," which was released on 18 October. The survey's methodology shows the perceptions of "business people and country analysts, both resident and non-resident," and is derived from 16 different polls. A perfect score is 10, and Iran scored 2.9. Nearly half the countries surveyed had scores lower than 3.0, which means they are rampantly corrupt. Transparency International's press release urges national leaders to go "beyond lip service and make good on their promises to provide the commitment and resources to improve governance, transparency, and accountability."

Dissatisfaction With Official Efforts

Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei demanded the elimination of corruption in a 30 April 2001 decree to the heads of the executive, legislative, and judicial branches of government. The decree established an official headquarters against economic corruption, and it called for cooperation between the State Inspectorate, the State Audit Office, and the Ministry of Intelligence and Security (MOIS).

One day later, judiciary chief Ayatollah Mahmud Hashemi-Shahrudi said in a letter to Khamenei that a committee made up of personnel from the judiciary, the Tehran Justice Administration, the State Inspectorate, State Audit Office, and the MOIS has been created to deal with economic and financial corruption, IRNA reported.

Four and 1/2 years later, not everyone is impressed with the anticorruption campaign. According to state radio, Guardians Council Secretary Ayatollah Ahmad Jannati said in his 7 October Friday prayers sermon in Tehran, "There are many instances of financial corruption, and many of these instances are covered up." He continued: "I wish to question these cover-ups. To what extent will it serve the interests of the state to hide the instances of corruption? Of course there may be some expediency, but there are disadvantages too."

The sentiments have been repeated by others. Tehran parliamentary representative Imad Afrugh said on 10 October that corruption problems persist, "Iran Daily" reported on 11 October. He said there is a legal vacuum on how to deal with economically corrupt individuals, and suggested that the guilty are being shielded. "Perhaps hidden hands are involved which protect those people," Afrugh said, suggesting an investigation of the anticorruption headquarters might be in order.

Uncovering Corruption

Within days of these official critiques, the anticorruption headquarters announced its discoveries. Its spokesman, Hojatoleslam Abdolreza Izadpanah, announced on 14 October that Supreme Leader Khamenei has been given a report detailing 3 trillion rials (approximately $348 million) worth of corrupt activities in 11 firms affiliated with the Petroleum Ministry, "Iran Daily" and "Aftab-i Yazd" reported on 15 October. Izadpanah referred to cases involving land speculation and said 6,300 billion rials have been returned to the treasury. Other cases involved personnel from the Supreme Leader's Office and unnamed "Islamic revolutionary institutions." Izadpanah said that 110 companies have falsified profit-and-loss statements, forged contracts, and engaged in other activities with the cooperation of Management and Planning Organization officials. In the last three years, he said, the MOIS has dealt with almost 1,500 economic cases, more than half of which have been referred to the judiciary. He said 1,100 people have been arrested so far.

In an 18 October interview with Radio Farda, Transparency International chairman Peter Eigen explained that there is more to economic corruption than ill-gotten gains. Eigen said corruption undermines the proper functioning of governments. "The policies are distorted by corruption. The whole purpose of corruption is that you want to change decisions and very often you want to buy the wrong decisions," Eigen said. "If you are for instance a private company, which tries to get the big contract for constructing a power station, then you try to get the contract even though you may not be the best supplier. Therefore there is a very negative, destructive relationship between, in particular, economic policy and corruption." Eigen added that corruption is harmful to public welfare as well. "Corruption perverts economic policymaking and therefore corruption leads to poverty and leads to the impossibility of a government to deal with poverty in its society."

Corruption And Poverty

Corruption may not be the worst crime, Eigen posited. Nevertheless, he continued, "corruption has destroyed the possibility of people to fight poverty, to develop a democratic society, and, in that sense, it is in my opinion a crime against mankind." The elimination of corruption will require steps that are more proactive than issuing reports and making arrests. Judiciary chief Hashemi-Shahrudi explained in September: "The more the regulations and laws related to financial and administrative performance are transparent and open, the less the possibility of corruption and abuse," "Mardom Salari" reported. He went on to say that there is a duplication of effort among Iranian supervisory bodies, and not only does this waste money but it hinders the actual supervisory function. Izadpanah, spokesman for the anticorruption headquarters, identified other necessary steps. He said the MOIS must control and supervise foreign contracts, "Aftab-i Yazd" reported on 15 October. He also called for the revision of tax laws, the elimination of numerous import tariffs, amendment of foreign investment and trade laws, and the transformation of nontariff barriers.

Official concern about the corruption problem persists in Iran, and the anticorruption headquarters' report did not satisfy everybody. Parliamentarian Imad Afruq said on 18 October that 50 of his colleagues have called for a probe into the headquarters' activities, Mehr News Agency reported. Karaj parliamentary representative Rashid Jalali-Jafari said on 19 October that the judiciary should reveal the names of corrupt officials, even the "big shots," "Sharq" reported on 20 October. The fight against corruption will not be effective if such a step is not taken, he said. Mujtaba Bigdeli, spokesman for the hard-line Hizbullah organization, said in the 20 October issue of "Etemad" that the anticorruption headquarters' record to date is not bad. However, he called on the headquarters to identify the corrupt individuals. "We expect the headquarters to name and shame the accused and those who have been engaged in economic corruption, because with their activities they have deprived the people of the assets necessary for work creation," he said. "We hope that Mr. [Mahmud] Ahmadinejad will implement his programs on economic justice as soon as possible."