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Friday Prayer Imams In Iran Attack Rouhani On Financial Reforms Demanded By The West

Tehran's Friday Prayer Leaser Kazem Seddiqi. File photo

While the clock is ticking for the deadline that the Financial Action Task Force (FATF) has set for Iran to join international conventions combatting money laundering and financial assistance to terrorist organizations, Friday Prayer leaders have barraged President Hassan Rouhani's administration with criticism for insisting on compliance with international requirements.

The convention is part of four bills Iran has to officially approve as required by FATF. The legislation would pave the way for Iran to meet the requirements of FATF, in the hope of reducing international pressure on Iran’s deteriorating economy. The most crucial piece of legislation is related to the United Nations Convention against Transnational Organized Crimes (UNTOC).

Originally proposed by Rouhani last November, the bills have met with staunch resistance from hard-liners, including Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who says the conventions have been “cooked up” by foreign enemies.

Without the internationally required legislation, Iran will have a tougher time doing business and banking with the rest of the world.

FATF has given Iran until late February to either endorse UNTOC or be added to its blacklist of countries refusing to cooperate in the fight against money laundering and financing terrorism.

On January 21, the minister of cooperatives, labor, and social welfare, Mohammad Shariatmadari, confirmed that several ministers had penned a letter to Khamenei requesting his help in speeding up the process.
The letter has apparently angered the ultraconservative clerics, who serve as Friday Prayer leaders, or imams, across Iran.

Meanwhile, there have been several anti-FATF rallies and assemblies at mosques and Friday Prayer venues, organized by close allies of Khamenei.
Mid-ranking cleric and Tehran's interim Friday Prayer leader, Kazem Seddiqi, lambasted Rouhani's ministers for writing the letter on January 25, calling on the influential Expediency Discernment Council to vet the proposed bills "wisely."

"We are engaged in an economic war today and, in a war, camouflage and coverup are crucial matters," Seddiqi said in one of his Friday sermons. "Germany has raised questions concerning Khatam al-Anbiya Construction Headquarters' operation in the South Pars gas field in the Persian Gulf, and if the bills proposed by the government approved, Iran would be legally bound to respond."

Khatam al-Anbiya Construction Headquarters is an Iranian engineering firm controlled by the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) and one of Iran's largest contractors in industrial and development projects.

Seddiqi's criticism was aired in tandem with the IRGC’s recent attacks on Rouhani and his cabinet.

Amir Ali Hajizadeh, commander of the IRGC Aerospace Force, implicitly attacked Rouhani on January 25, maintaining that those who obstruct Iran's progress by "making wrong choices" are "a handful of managers who are under Western influence."

Earlier, the secretary of the influential EDC and former chief commander of IRGC, Mohsen Rezaei, had also proposed leaving executive affairs to the IRGC and Basij (voluntary militia) members.

The Friday Prayer of the city of Karaj, mid-ranking cleric Mohammad Mehdi Hosseini, described the letter as "bitter and embarrassing," adding, "Although I am not aware of the details of the letter, the signatories to it are apparently attempting to push forward their imprudent decision by attracting the supreme leader's endorsement."

Previously, there were reports that ministers who wrote to Khamenei threatened to resign if the FATF bills were not approved.

While the fate of the bills, known as the "Palermo bills" in Iran, is still in the balance, the conservative allies of Khamenei have joined forces to block their approval by the EDC and the Guardian Council.

During Friday Prayer in the city of Qom, opponents of the Palermo bills chanted, "Palermo, a plot cooked up by Pompeo," calling on the EDC to dismiss the bills with "revolutionary resolution."