x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 24 July 2017

Minister's lie taints Ahmadinejad

Iran's parliament impeaches the interior minister Ali Kordan for deception after he faked a degree from Oxford University.

Iran's Interior Minister Ali Kordan speaks during his impeachment proceedings in parliament in Tehran.
Iran's Interior Minister Ali Kordan speaks during his impeachment proceedings in parliament in Tehran.

Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, Iran's president, suffered a politically damaging and acutely embarrassing blow yesterday when his interior minister, Ali Kordan, was impeached for dishonesty after confessing to holding a forged law degree from Oxford University. The president has portrayed himself as a champion against corruption but stood by Mr Kordan as the scandal intensified, insisting his minister was a "victim" who had devoted 30 years of service to the Islamic republic and should not be judged on one "piece of torn paper". Mr Ahmadinejad refused to attend Tuesday's parliamentary session, declaring the move to impeach was illegal because Mr Kordan had committed no wrongdoing during his turbulent three months in office. But the parliamentarians behind the motion countered that an interior minister should be seen to be incorruptible: his powerful post oversees domestic security as well as organising elections such as the presidential ones to be held in June. "A person who has to be entrusted with the country's security has mocked parliament's trust," Ebrahim Nekuman, one deputy, said in a speech to the assembly broadcast live on state radio. Mr Kordan, a former Revolutionary Guards officer like the president, was defeated by a large majority: of the 247 deputies present in the 290-seat parliament, 188 voted against Mr Kordan, including many hardliners. Only 45 voted in his favour while 14 abstained. Mr Kordan's unseemly sacking pushes the president dangerously close to having to submit his whole cabinet to a review by parliament, which is led by Ali Larijani, the assembly's speaker and one of Mr Ahmadinejad's key political rivals within the fractious conservative camp. Under Iran's constitution the cabinet must be resubmitted for approval if more than half of the ministers are replaced. Mr Ahmadinejad has already replaced nine of his ministers, often after quarrelling with them. Mr Kordan's disgrace will deal a body blow to Mr Ahmadinejad's hopes of winning a second four-year term but will not prove fatal, analysts said. Deputies have accused the president of naivety for having been duped by the lies of his disgraced interior minister. But Mr Ahmadinejad faces more serious challenges, particularly over his expansionary economic policies which are blamed for rampant inflation that now stands at nearly 30 per cent. Plunging oil prices also mean it will be difficult for Mr Ahmadinejad to keep handing out cheap loans to the poor who helped him win power in the last elections. Meanwhile, Mr Ahmadinejad's failure to show up at several recent public events triggered rumours that he was too ill to run for president again, forcing aides into admitting he is sometimes hospitalised because of strain and exhaustion - but nothing more serious. Despite its far-reaching political ramifications, the Kordan row descended into farce last week in stormy scenes in parliament. Several deputies complained furiously that a senior presidential aide, Mohammad Abassi, had offered them US$5,000 (Dh18,000) - ostensibly to benefit mosques in their districts - if they voted against impeaching Mr Kordan. The deputies refused, with one even slapping Mr Abassi's face in a parliamentary corridor. Two days later the aide was sacked by Mr Ahmadinejad. The Kordan saga began in August when parliament, which vets cabinet ministers proposed by the president, met to vote on his confirmation. When several deputies questioned Mr Kordan's eligibility, he brandished a graduation certificate purporting that he had been awarded an "honorary doctorate of law" by Oxford University. He was eventually approved by 160 of the 269 deputies present. But Mr Kordan did little to allay suspicions of his vaunted academic prowess by persistently referring to one of Britain's two most prestigious seats of learning as "the London Oxford University". Within days, Iranian reporters were following up claims by some deputies that the degree was bogus. Mr Kordan promptly released a copy of the certificate to quell such speculation. Alef, an Iranian news website associated with one Mr Ahmadinejad's critics, delightedly pointed out several spelling and grammatical errors in the document. The word entitle, for instance, appeared as "intitle". Alef passed the certificate to Oxford University, which disavowed it. The Iranian government then blocked access to Alef. Mr Kordan soon became a laughing stock. Gleeful Iranian websites circulated a fake resignation letter by the supposedly contrite minister that brimmed with typographical errors and struck-out words. One deputy claimed that Mr Kordan, who worked as a university lecturer, had even regaled his students with imaginary tales about his halcyon days as a student amid Oxford's dreaming spires and hallowed cloisters. Mr Kordan, who stubbornly refused numerous calls to resign instead of facing impeachment, told parliament on Monday he would never have presented the degree if he had known it was a fake. He claimed the degree was issued for his "managerial and executive experience" and for a thesis he had submitted to Oxford University through a person who had opened an affiliate office in Tehran. Mr Kordan insisted he received the degree in good faith and only doubted it when deputies questioned its authenticity. "To my utter disbelief, the university did not confirm [the degree] when my representative went there," he maintained. He claimed he had filed a complaint against the mysterious intermediary who purportedly represented Oxford University in Tehran. But Mr Kordan said he was unable to find the man and has declined to name him. He accused the media of launching a smear campaign against him, blaming his woes on Israeli radio and overseas Iranian outlets. But the impeachment motion was put forward by 28 mostly conservative deputies from within Mr Ahmadinejad's hardline camp. One of them, Bijan Nobaveh, yesterday accused Mr Kordan of "still lying" and charged that he had "reduced public faith and confidence in the system". mtheodoulou@thenational.ae