Unaccountability after Tehran High-Rise Disaster

There is still plenty of anger among the Iranian population about the January 19 fire and collapse of a historic high-rise building in downtown Tehran. The number of casualties is still unknown as the emergency services are still finding bodies under the rubble. Meanwhile, the Iranian media have been reporting that “no legal file has yet been opened” about the entities responsible for the disaster and for the poor emergency response by the Tehran municipality in the initial aftermath of the building’s collapse.

The most obvious casualty so far has been the mayor of Tehran, Mohammad Qalibaf. His handling of the crisis has been widely condemned as inadequate and mostly aimed toward damage control given the political repercussions the event can have on his reputation. Qalibaf, a former commander of the Islamic Revolution Guards Corps (IRGC), had recently again been mentioned as a potential candidate for the May 2017 presidential elections.

Another IRGC-linked entity that has faced much scorn due to its role in the disaster is the Bonyad-e Mostazafin (Mostazfin Foundantion), a huge conglomerate that is under the control of Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. 

The Bonyad was the official owner of the building, which had been confiscated from its original owners following the 1979 Iranian Revolution. The head of the Bonyad, Mohammad Saeedi-Kia has been attacked for his comment that his organization “will rebuild the site” in 2 years as it has all the necessary financing and other means necessary. His comment created a significant backlash in Iranian media where questions have been asked why the Bonyad had not invested in infrastructure safety measures at the building prior to its collapse. The collapse of this Tehran landmark has brought about plenty of difficult political questions about accountability and nepotism in Iran’s capital where many of the buildings are of similar quality to the one that collapsed on January 19.

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