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Will Iran's Judiciary Prosecute Ahmadinejad?

Former Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad speaking with his close aid Hamid Baghaei.

As tension between Iran's judiciary and Mahmud Ahmadinejad reach a new peak, the former president has received a yellow card from the judicial authorities. The most recent quarrel occurred after the detention of Ahmadinejad’s former deputy, Hamid Baghaei, because he allegedly could not pay the bail of 500 billion rials (more than $13 million) set by a judge due to corruption charges against him.

Following the incident, Ahmadinejad released an open letter denouncing the charges against his companion, calling his detention a “major injustice,” and asking for his immediate release. The ex-president also talked about harsh prison conditions and expressed concerns about the health situation of his former deputy, who had gone on hunger strike.

The judiciary was displeased with Ahmadinejad’s letter and issued a stern warning for him. Judiciary spokesman Gholam Hossein Ejei called Ahmadinejad’s claims untrue and the content of his letter criminal and prosecutable. He also compared Baghaei’s cell conditions to a luxury hotel, claiming he lives in a suite where he has “a refrigerator, a television, and enough sunlight.” Additionally, he mentioned that the deputy allegedly had 2 million euros in his possession.

On July 18, Tehran’s general prosecutor, Abbas Jafari Dolatabadi, doubled down, calling Ahmadinejad’s letter insulting and untrue and his action of releasing the letter criminal. He added that his office “reserved its right to prosecute” him.

However, on July 19 Ahmadinejad issued a new statement calling Baghaei innocent, adding the charges against him were “pure lies.” The former president also demanded that the judiciary’s spokesman be prosecuted for “incitement” and “spreading lies.”

Ahmadinejad asked the judiciary’s spokesman specifically to clarify on allegations regarding the 2 million euros.

“It is necessary that the spokesman of the judiciary clearly and in a transparent manner explain when, where, and in whose possession these 2 million euros were and for whom the money was destined and how this related to Baghaei,” he wrote.

Mohammad Nourizad, a political activist and documentary maker living in Iran, said in an interview with Radio Farda that the real purpose of Ahmadinejad’s letters was not to protect Baghaei but rather the former president himself. Ahmadinejad was concerned that the judiciary could soon come after him, Nourizad said.

Reza Alijani, an Iranian political commentator living in France, told Radio Farda that Ahmadinejad pretended the accusations against his former colleague were political, but they were real and in fact he himself should also be prosecuted for corruption. However, according to Alijani, that would only happen if Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei would allow it.

The relationship between the two former allies has been severed in recent times. Ahmadinejad planned to run as a presidential candidate in May’s election, but the supreme leader discouraged him from doing so, suggesting his candidacy would divide the nation -- an indirect reference to the widespread protests against Ahmadinejad’s second victory in the 2009 election that many said was rigged.

Ahmadinejad was defiant and signed up for the election along with Baghaei. But the Guardian Council, an institution loyal to the supreme leader and in charge of vetting the candidates, disqualified both.

Experts believe that if the judiciary decides to prosecute Ahmadinejad, the potential list of charges against him would be extensive, including billions of dollars of oil revenues that were never deposited into the national treasury.

Despite the corruption allegations and the damages Iran’s economy suffered due to his controversial domestic measures and aggressive foreign policy, the former president enjoyed the full support of Khamenei during his two terms. Allowing the judiciary to prosecute Ahmadinejad could underline the partial responsibility of the supreme leader for his actions, many observers say. The fact that Khamenei’s followers consider him “infallible” makes the move much more difficult and less likely.