A special committee has been formed to investigate the scandal in Tehran Municipality called “Astronomical Property Sellout,”, Mayor Mohammad Ali Najafi disclosed at his first press conference.
Reportedly, during the tenure of Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) commander Mohammad Bagher Qalibaf at Tehran Municipality, estates worth billions of dollars were generously distributed among city councilors and municipal staff.
The estates and properties were not sold using proper channels, such as City Hall Property Agency, Najafi maintained, vowing details would be published after further investigation.
Meanwhile, the newly installed mayor said, “I believe the published report that revealed the astronomical properties [scandal] was partly wrong and should be corrected."
Furthermore, he insisted that “several people who were named and accused on the list of people benefiting from the scandal” are not guilty and should be “rehabilitated."
However, Najafi noted there are several guilty parties whose names are missing from the list.
“As a matter of fact, we were not able to collect precise information on the case," he conceded.
Corruption in holding bids and offers, employing an inefficient work force in management levels as well as employing retired and disabled people are examples of deeply rooted fraud in Tehran Municipality.
In an interview with Students News Agency (ISNA), Morteza Alviri, a former mayor of Tehran (1999-2002), had said the scandalous case of “astronomical estates” was the “tip of the iceberg."
“Corruption in holding bids and offers, employing an inefficient work force in management levels as well as employing retired and disabled people are examples of deeply rooted fraud in Tehran Municipality,” Alviri said on August 14.
The scandal was first disclosed in 2016 when a pro-reform website, Memari News, reported on Aug. 27 that it had received documents indicating that 1,100,000 square meters (110 square hectares) of state-owned properties had been sold to various individuals, including people close to power bases in Iran. 250 names, including the names of several Tehran’s municipality staff and city councilors, were listed in the report as those who benefited the scam.
According to the article, the names of the individuals and the specific properties involved were leaked in a document from the State General Inspection Office. The General Inspection Office had reportedly written a letter to the Mayor’s office and the Tehran City Council about the case.
Former mayor Qalibaf immediately dismissed any wrong doing, insisting that everything had been done under the necessary permits and strictly according to the law and regulations.
Soon, the leak turned into the worst nightmare ever for the conservative Mayor who was preparing himself to challenge the “moderate” incumbent, Hassan Rouhani, in the 2017 presidential election.
Tehran’s Prosecutor-General office named Najafi, Rouhani’s close ally, as one of the whistle blowers who disclosed the “astronomical estates sell-out scandal”.
Nevertheless, Najafi dismissed the claim, maintaining, “I even suggested to keep the letter [report disclosing the scandal] confidential and wait for Tehran Municipality's explanation. But, at the same day, ‘our dear brother,' who was present at the session and I prefer not to name him, passed a copy of the report to Yashar Soltani. Three days later, the report [on the astronomical estates sell-out scandal] was published on cyberspace."
Explaining the procedure for investigation of the scandal, Najafi told reporters that "Qalibaf had appointed one of ‘his special consultants,’ who was in charge of all legal cases for City Hall, as the liaison between the municipality and the Justice Department."
The liaison, according to the new mayor, “was Tehran Municipality’s middleman for investigating the scandal at the justice department,” until recently.
Without naming the liaison, Najafi disclosed, “I wrote a letter to Tehran’s prosecutor-general, officially declaring that the middleman is not representing the municipality and he has not filed any report for City Hall."