While signature collection is reportedly underway in Majles (Iran's parliament) to impeach the Islamic Republic's Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif, his subordinates have raised voices to defend their boss.
Talk of Zarif’s impeachment by some conservative MPs on Monday became more pointed on Tuesday as one MP claimed collecting signatures has already begun.
Based on the Iranian parliament's procedural law, at least ten MPs should sign a motion to launch the impeachment process.
In the meantime, a member of parliament's presidium denied any moves on impeachment on Wednesday November 21, according to Mehr news agency.
In a controversial comment on November 11, Zarif had said that those who profit billions of dollars from money laundering in Iran are spending millions of it to prevent the passage of the bills requiring more financial transparency.
The foreign minister went on to accuse state-owned agencies that he refrained from naming, of mounting the campaign against President Hassan Rouhanis' proposed legislation known as Palermo Bills.
"We cannot challenge the scenes set by these wealthy and mighty state-organs,” he said.
The comments triggered a wave of enraged responses from the conservative camp dominating Iran.
Meanwhile, Zarif's sidekicks, including his first deputy Morteza Sarmadi and Tehran's Ambassador to London Hamid Baeidinejad followed the foreign ministry's spokesman, Bahram Ghasemi, in defending their boss.
Sarmadi tried to downplay the row over Zarif's controversial comments by stressing, "Based on reliable statistics, nearly 10-15 billions of dollars are annually laundered in Iran.
"Zarif has not accused the opponents of the passage of the Palermo bills of being involved in money laundering; he has only condemned individuals who are benefiting from money laundering," Sarmadi noted.
In an interview with the state-run Iran Students News Agency (ISNA), Sarmadi said on Tuesday, "According to the latest statistics, money laundering in Iran amounts to $10-15 billions of every year."
Iranian Ambassador to London, Hamid Baeidinejad also joined the chorus to defend Zarif by insisting that the Islamic Republic's authorities have long been aware of the high level of money laundering in the country.
The authorities have been monitoring the main smuggling points of entry for years, and are fully aware of the precise amount of money gained through these points of entry, Baeidinejad tweeted on Tuesday.
"Smuggling narcotics in Iran amounts to $3 billion, and hard currencies and goods $12.6 billion, each year," Baeidinejad said on his Twitter account, adding, "Forty million liters (roughly 10.5 million US gallons) of fuel is smuggled out of Iran, every day."
Conservative attacks that first started with condemnations of Zarif’s remarks turned into rumors of his resignation and then a threat by some MPs to impeach him.
Then on Tuesday, hardline MPs started collecting signatures to pave the way for Zarif's impeachment.
An outspoken ultraconservative member of Majles, Hossein-Ali Haji-Deligani told the government's official news agency (IRNA) that Zarif was expected to present evidence of widespread money laundering in Iran, but he has failed to do so.
"Since his failure, the legislators decided to collect the necessary signatures for his impeachment," Haji-Deligani maintained on Tuesday, November 20.
It is not clear at all if the impeachment move will result in any serious action, as a prominent conservative MP begged to differ with his political comrades.
Alaeddin Boroujerdi, a senior legislator who chaired the Majles National Security and Foreign Policy Committee for many years, told IRNA on Tuesday that Zarif should not be impeached for just a single remark.
“Head of the diplomatic apparatus is not supposed to resign or be impeached for one sentence,” Boroujerdi reiterated.
However, he immediately criticized Zarif for making the comments. “It was better for the foreign minister to avoid commenting on such an issue", Boroujerdi insisted.
The adoption of anti-money laundering and terrorism financing laws by Iran can help its standing with European countries that have pledged to help Iran continue doing trade despite U.S. sanctions.