NewsSpecial WireMurky move as Iran’s leader offers key post to...

Murky move as Iran’s leader offers key post to protégé

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Iran Focus: London, Aug. 13 – Mohammad-Baqer Qalibaf, Iran’s former police chief and defeated presidential contender, has been handpicked by Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei to head the Islamic Republic’s largest economic conglomerate, according to a close associate of the ultra-conservative general. Iran Focus

London, Aug. 13 – Mohammad-Baqer Qalibaf, Iran’s former police chief and defeated presidential contender, has been handpicked by Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei to head the Islamic Republic’s largest economic conglomerate, according to a close associate of the ultra-conservative general.

Qalibaf, who commanded the Air Force of the elite Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) until his appointment as police chief in 2000, is going through an advanced pilot-training course in France and was not available for comment, but a member of his former presidential campaign team confirmed the expected appointment.

The new conglomerate will be created from the merger of the powerful Bonyad Mostazafin (Foundation of the Deprived) and the Office for Implementation of the Imam’s Commands. It will hold sway over a multi-billion-dollar sector of Iran’s economy. Bonyad Mostazafin was formed in 1979 to take control of the huge assets of the abolished royal household, as well as much of the assets and funds confiscated from businessmen associated with the former regime. Since then, the foundation has grown into an opaque financial empire, accountable to none other than the Supreme Leader.

Qalibaf has always been a loyal protégé of Ayatollah Khamenei. His selection to head a new economic foundation is seen as a move by Khamenei to consolidate economic power in the hands of his allies and protégés, who already control much of the country’s economy. Having seriously weakened rival Ali-Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani in the recent elections, Khamenei now seeks to undermine Rafsanjani’s financial clout.

“The multi-billion-dollar earnings of the foundations under Khamenei’s control have been used to finance an array of activities that could not be included in the official state budget, including acquisition of illegal materials, sponsorship of terrorism and clandestine nuclear and missile projects”, said Hadi Mohebbi, an Iranian affairs analyst based in London. “Khamenei might be trying to tap Qalibaf’s considerable organising and technocratic skills to expand these operations”.

Others see the selection as a reward from Khamenei to the man who acted as a political fall guy for Mahmoud Ahmadinejad during the June presidential elections. Many analysts, with hindsight, believe the candidacy of Qalibaf and three other fellow IRGC commanders was part of a complex political manoeuvring by Khamenei to deflect attacks by the Rafsanjani camp on his favourite candidate, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, while the massive organisations under his control, such as the Revolutionary Guards and the paramilitary Bassij, worked behind the scenes to have Ahmadinejad elected.

Qalibaf stepped down as the chief of the paramilitary police force earlier this year to run in the presidential elections in June. His aggressive, western-style presidential campaign convinced most observers before the first round of voting on June 17 that he would emerge as the top ultra-conservative candidate, facing Hashemi Rafsanjani in the final round.

Revolutionary Guards’ Deputy Commander Mohammad Bagher Zolghadr tacitly admitted that the ultra-conservative camp’s decision to field several candidates was part of a “multi-layered plan”.

“We had to act tactfully in a complex political situation, when foreign powers and power-seeking domestic groups had planned well in advance to turn the election outcome in their favour and prevent the emergence of an effective Islamist government”, Zolghadr told a conference of Bassij commanders in Tehran last month.

He said the “Islamist forces” won the elections through “a sound, multi-layered plan” that created a “close competition”.

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