Iran General NewsCourt finds Iran minister guilty of fraud

Court finds Iran minister guilty of fraud

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ImageAP: An appeals court found Iran's industry minister guilty of fraud, newspapers reported Monday, in a new embarrassment for President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad even as he faces new disputes with his own hard-line camp over his government.

The Associated Press

By ALI AKBAR DAREINI

ImageTEHRAN, Iran (AP) — An appeals court found Iran's industry minister guilty of fraud, newspapers reported Monday, in a new embarrassment for President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad even as he faces new disputes with his own hard-line camp over his government.

Ahmadinejad has been feuding the past week with hard-liners, first over his appointment for vice president — whom he was forced to drop — then over his dismissal Sunday of his intelligence minister. Some hard-liners contend Ahmadinejad's government must be put to a parliamentary vote of confidence.

The rift comes on top of the upheaval over Iran's disputed June 12 presidential election. The pro-reform opposition claims Ahmadinejad's victory in the vote was fraudulent and that its leader Mir Hossein Mousavi is the rightful winner. They say Ahmadinejad's government is illegitimate.

The president's troubles within his own camp began earlier this month when he named a close associate, Esfandiar Rahim Mashai, as his top vice president. Hard-liners were outraged because of past comments by Mashai seen as friendly to Israel. Iran's supreme leader last week ordered Ahmadinejad to remove Mashai, but the president stalled for days — infuriating hard-liners — until he finally conceded and accepted Mashai's resignation Friday.

On Sunday, Ahmadinejad's office announced the dismissal of Intelligence Minister Gholam Hossein Mohseni Ejehi. No reasons were given but the two had differed over Mashai.

A prominent conservative lawmaker, Ahmad Tavakkoli, slammed Ahmadinejad on Sunday for the minister's dismissal, saying "there is no logical justification" for his move at the current crucial time.

The disputes are in part symbolic since Ahmadinejad is due to form a new government in August. But the rift could indicate that powerful hard-line politicians are sensing weakness in the president amid the election dispute and are seeking to have greater control over him in his second term. Some conservatives clashed frequently with Ahmadinejad in his first term over what they saw as his tendency to reserve power to a small clique of associates rather than distributing it among the camp's factions.

The court conviction of Industry Minister Ali Akbar Mehrabian, a close ally of the president, could give rivals further ammunition against Ahmadinejad. Mohsen Koohkan, a prominent hard-line lawmaker, said Monday that parliament will consider Mehrabian's conviction if Ahmadinejad tried to keep him in his post in the next government, as he has been expected to do. Parliment must approve the president's cabinet.

The case was sparked by claims by an Iranian researcher that Mehrabian had stolen his idea for an "earthquake saferoom" — a design for a fortified room in homes in case of disaster. A 2005 book, whose authors were listed as Mehrabian, an associate and President Ahmadinejad, detailed the design.

The appeals court upheld that the design actually belonged to researcher Farzan Salimi, several Iranian newspapers reported Monday. It convicted Mehrabian and the associate, Mousa Mazloum, of fraud. The court ordered the registration of the design to be taken from them and given to Salimi, but did not otherwise assign punishment. Salimi confirmed the ruling to The Associated Press.

Ahmadinejad was not among the defendants in the case, though his name was also on the book. The newspaper Etemad-e-Melli said Sunday that Salimi presented his design to the Tehran Municipality's department of crisis management in 2003, when Ahmadinejad was Tehran's mayor and Mehrabian and Mazloum were municipality officials.

The case could fuel complaints among hard-liners that Ahmadinejad keeps his close associates in top positions despite questions over their integrity. Last year, the president suffered a scandal when it was discovered that his interior minister, Ali Kordan, held a forged doctorate degree from Oxford University. Ahmadinejad defended him at first, but parliament eventually removed Kordan.

In the wake of the intelligence minister's dismissal, the status of another figure from Ahmadinejad's Cabinet remained unclear. Semiofficial media reported Sunday that Culture Minister Mohammad Hossein Saffar Harandi had stepped down, apparently over the vice presidency flap. Ahmadinejad's office, however, insisted Monday that his resignation had not been accepted.

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