In a scathing open letter published online, a close aide to Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has continued the public feud between the former president’s team and the country’s judicial and military institutions. In the letter addressed to the Judiciary, Hamid Baqaei, a former vice president who was recently arrested on embezzlement charges, questioned the fairness and transparency of the country’s judicial system. He also crossed a regime red line by raising questions about the country’s secretive Quds Force and its chief commander, Major General Qassem Soleimani. Quds Force is the elite branch of the Islamic Revolution Guards Corps (IRGC) responsible for external operations.
Rejecting the allegations that he had illegally received money from the Quds Force, the Ahmadinejad confidante said: “But hypothetically, in this fabricated scenario… am I guilty or Mr. General Qassem Soleimani as the official head of the Quds Force and the one who handed in the mentioned assets?” He continued: “Shouldn’t the Quds Force have asked me to provide a report which would clarify whether or not I’d committed a wrongdoing?” In the absence of such a report, Baqaei asked how the judicial authorities know if he had not spent the money as directed by the Quds Force. The full text of Baqaei’s letter was published by Ahmadinejad mouthpiece Dolat-e Bahar website.
Comment: Ahmadinejad’s relationship with the regime he once dutifully served has reached its nadir since judicial authorities jailed his aides Baqaei and Esfandiar Rahim Mashaei. Baqaei is accused of bribing African leaders in 2012 with the money provided to him by the Quds Force. Baqaei denies the charges.
The public row reveals many important things about the Islamic Republic: First, it confirms widespread corruption and a lack of accountability of public funds spent or embezzled by politicians and military leaders alike. Second, the public feud is another indication of eroding regime legitimacy and growing infighting between regime insiders.
Ahmadinejad was once very close to Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei, who is said to have helped the former president to win two consecutive terms in office. Perhaps one reason Ahmadinejad still walks free in Iran is that imprisoning him would call into question Khamenei’s judgment. The former president also continues to enjoy support among rural Iranians.
But as Ahmadinejad and his aides continue to cross regime red lines and even dare to disclose secretive operations of the Quds Force, regime authorities are likely to take tougher measures against the former president, including filing serious charges against himself.