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Khamenei's Chief Justice Builds An Anti-Corruption Image

Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei talks to Ebrahim Raeesi, the new head of the judiciary in Tehran, March 7, 2019
Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei talks to Ebrahim Raeesi, the new head of the judiciary in Tehran, March 7, 2019

The conservative chief of Iran’s Judiciary has been attempting in recent weeks to present himself as the spearhead in fighting financial corruption and injustice in the clergy-dominated country.

The mid-ranking cleric Ebrahim Raeesi (Raeisi or Raisi), a member of the "Death Quartet" that issued thousands of death sentences against political prisoners serving their sentences in the late 1980s, is hardly out of the center stage in the local news outlets.

Considered as one of the nominees to succeed the Islamic Republic's Supreme Leader, eighty-year-old Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, the newly appointed head of Iran's judiciary, has used his position to chase away possible rivals who can challenge him as successor to elderly Khamenei, who is not in the best state of health.

One of Raeesi's main targets is his predecessor, another mid-ranking cleric Ayatollah Sadeq Amoli Larijani.

Almost immediately after his appointment as the Islamic Republic Chief-Justice, Raeesi sacked his predecessor's influential assistant and deputy, Akbar Tabari.

Days later, the head of the intelligence and security department of the Islamic Republic's Judiciary said a "cleansing" procedure is underway in the country's judicial system, traditionally dominated by conservatives.

"Under the Supreme Leader's (Ali Khamenei) directive, we have started cleaning up the judiciary, while cleansing operations outside continue," disclosed Ali Abdollahi, on August 15.

The first head to roll belonged to Amoli Larijani's "right hand," Akbar Tabari.

Furthermore, on Tuesday, September 24, described the corruption discovered in the Islamic Republic's judiciary as "astonishing."

Without elaboration on the details, Raeesi maintained that the country's judiciary is infested with financial corruption and widespread bribery.

"The bribes included a six hundred square meters (approximately 6.5 thousand square feet) apartment and 4,000 square meters (roughly 43 thousand square feet) villas in posh areas of Iran, near the Caspian Sea," Raeesi declared, proudly adding that all the suspects were arrested and their illegal assets and properties confiscated.

Meanwhile, Raeesi has never stopped challenging President Hassan Rouhani and his administration.

The potential contender for the post of the Supreme Leader, who lost to the incumbent Rouhani in 2017 presidential election, has started criticizing the president on workers’ rights and presenting himself as the defender of the weak.

Referring to the long-lasting strikes and protest rallies in Iran's once giant producer of heavy machinery, Raeesi lambasted Rouhani and his cabinet for hesitation in addressing demands raised by the workers of Heavy Equipment Production Company (HEPCO) in the city of Arak, 281 kilometers (174 miles) southwest of the capital, Tehran.

Once considered as the largest industrial machinery complex in the Middle East, HEPCO was a lucrative company established in 1972 during the reign of Iran's last monarch, Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi.

However, HEPCO was first nationalized after the revolution and later privatized in a highly suspicious deal. Labor rights activists say that immediately following the privatization problems emerged for workers. The new owners started to delay wages and mismanage the complex.

Now, years after HEPCO's privatization, Raeesi has accused Rouhani's government of privatizing public companies disregarding regulations.

"In many privatized companies, the workers have lost their jobs---nobody has listened to the labor protests---the factories are suffering from stagnation---and the judiciary has been forced to step in," Raeesi asserted.

Last Sunday, in a severe attack on a labor protest gathering, special security units injured nearly twenty workers and detained forty more at HEPCO Industrial Complex in the city of Arak.

However, reportedly almost all of the detainees were set free on bail under Raeesi's orders.

While he has been active in presenting himself as the supporter of HEPCO's workers, he has kept silent about similar cases across the country, including in the Haft Tapeh Sugar Cane Plant in the oil-rich province of Khuzestan, southwest Iran.

But for now Supreme Leader Khamenei has found a protégé who can help deflect popular discontent and position himself to succeed the long-reigning autocrat.