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Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 19 September 2018

Brother of Iran president Hassan Rouhani 'detained'

Hossein Fereidoun is also a top aide to the president, who changed his surname from Fereidoun years ago

Iranian foreign minister Javad Zarif (L) stands alongside Hossein Fereidoun, president Hassan Rouhani's younger brother and advisor, during a press conference for Mr Rouhani in Tehran on April 3, 2015. Atta Kenare / AFP
Iranian foreign minister Javad Zarif (L) stands alongside Hossein Fereidoun, president Hassan Rouhani's younger brother and advisor, during a press conference for Mr Rouhani in Tehran on April 3, 2015. Atta Kenare / AFP

Iran's judiciary on Sunday announced the arrest of president Hassan Rouhani's brother Hossein Fereydoun on financial crime charges, in a long-running feud between two of the country's centres of power.

"Multiple investigations have been conducted regarding this person, also other people have been investigated, some of whom are in jail," deputy judiciary chief Gholamhossein Mohseni Ejeie said in a televised press conference.

"Yesterday, bail was issued for him but because he failed to secure it he was referred to prison."

"If he secures bail, he will be released. But the case will take its course," he added.

The conservative-dominated judiciary has clashed with Mr Rouhani, who has sought to ease social restrictions and release political prisoners.

News of the arrest comes a year after the head of the General Inspection Organisation, Naser Seraj, first accused Mr Fereydoun — who acts as a key adviser and gatekeeper to Mr Rouhani — of financial violations.

The brothers do not share the same name because Mr Rouhani changed his when he was younger to a word meaning "cleric".

Conservatives have demanded that Mr Fereydoun be put on trial, accusing him of receiving zero-interest loans and influencing the appointment of two bank directors.

One of the bank directors was later accused of involvement in a "large corruption scandal" by the intelligence services of the Revolutionary Guard, and the other was fired as part of a widespread scandal into exorbitant salaries at public institutions.

The attacks on Mr Fereydoun began around the same time as a pay scandal last summer — both milked by conservatives to smear Mr Rouhani in the build-up to the presidential election in May.

A report by the Audit Court found in October that executives at state-owned banks had earned as much as 622 million rials (Dh70,058) a month — compared with average public sector salaries of US$400 (Dh1,469) — leading to hundreds of prosecutions and a new government salary cap.

Voters still convincingly backed Mr Rouhani's policies of rebuilding ties with the West, though there were signs that the corruption allegations had eaten away at his support.

The deputy judiciary chief, Mr Ejehi, also said on Sunday that a US citizen accused of "infiltration" in Iran had been sentenced to 10 years in prison.

"The person was identified and arrested by the intelligence forces. The court has sentenced the person to 10 years," Mr Ejeie said, adding that the unnamed individual had appealed the sentence.

Mizan, the Iranian judiciary's official news site, later identified the American as Xiyue Wang, who it said was a 37-year-old Beijing-born historian at Princeton University who was "spying under the cover of research".

The US State Department did not identify its jailed citizen, but accused Iran of fabricating national security-related charges to detain Americans and other foreigners.

"We call for the immediate release of all US citizens unjustly detained in Iran so they can return to their families," a department official said. "All US citizens, especially dual nationals, considering travel to Iran should carefully read our latest travel warning‎."‎

Mr Xiyue was also active at the university's Sharmin and Bijan Mossavar-Rahmani Centre for Iran and Persian Gulf Studies, which Mizan said had links to western intelligence agencies and Israel.

"The American spy arrested in Iran was also at the centre and his mission was to collect confidential information and documents," Mizan said, adding that he had copied 4,500 documents.

Mr Xiyue was arrested in July last year as he was trying to leave Iran "after he became nervous about his situation", Mizan said.

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