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Who Is Qalibaf, Iran's New Parliament Speaker

Former IRGC commander and the new Parliament speaker Mohammad Bagher Qalibaf in the opening ceremony of new parliamentary term on May 28, 2020.
Former IRGC commander and the new Parliament speaker Mohammad Bagher Qalibaf in the opening ceremony of new parliamentary term on May 28, 2020.

Brigadier General Mohammad Baqer Qalibaf who was elected as the Speaker of Iran's parliament (Majles) on Thursday May 28, has 40 years of experience in military, political, economic, policing and urban management. Nonetheless, he is best known for being implicated in major financial corruption cases.

He was the first IRGC general who became the Mayor of Tehran. Now, he is the first general who serves as Majles Speaker, and the first IRGC commander who leads one of the three branches of government.

With his rising to the position of Majles Speaker almost certainly none of the corruption cases against him, his family and perhaps even his friends will be taken any further, although even during the past 15 years no one followed up those cases and no one was summoned to court.

The first major corruption case against Qalibaf dates back to 15 years ago and is about the relations between his campaign team in the 2005 presidential elections and a major gang of drug and fuel smugglers. It has been said that based on a deal, Qalibaf helped the release of the smugglers from jail against their financial assistance to his campaign. State officials kept the case under the wraps until the 2013 presidential campaign when Hassan Rouhani spoke about the case as a rival candidate.

Rouhani said that the case was to be reviewed by the Supreme Council of National Security, but he prevented it from being made public.

Former government speaker Abdollah Ramezanzadeh tried a few times to make the case public on social media. He even said that Qalibaf's brother was once arrested in connection with this case. But both the Judiciary and the media ignored his comments.

Qalibaf was not summoned to court even when his deputy at the Tehran Municipality, Isa Sharifi was arrested. Sharifi has been in jail for three years now with no open trial. The public was effectively barred from a glance into the mayor's role in his deputy's case.

In a third case against him and his colleagues involving giving "astronomically-priced properties," to Qalibaf's managers and friends, not only he was not summoned to court, but Yashar Soltani, a journalist who had revealed the case was arrested.

In yet another case, major financial corruption was revealed in Bank Shahr [City Bank] and Bank Sarmayeh [Capital Bank] which operated under the aegis of the Tehran Municipality, but still no judiciary official questioned the mayor.

It was later revealed that in a fifth case, Qalibaf had paid 600 billion rials ($20 million at the time) to his wife Zahra Moshir's charity, the Imam Reza Charity Institute. This was other than the case involving Qalibaf's son, Elias. Still the mayor was not summoned to court and the case remained inconclusive.

It is a question for the public how Qalibaf could get away with all those accusations. However, there is very little doubt that it has to do with Qalibaf's powerful position in the network of IRGC commanders and his long-standing ties with Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei.

Like Khamenei, Qalibaf comes from Mashhad. It is known to Iranian media that it was Qalibaf who first came up with the spectacular forms of address Aqa [Sire] and Hazrat-e Aqa [His eminence] for Khamenei even during Khamenei's presidency in the 1980s. In return, Khamenei has shown his special favor to this fellow Mashhadi commander. During the past 30 years, Qalibaf got all of his military ranks and political positions with direct orders from Khamenei.

He was a brigade commander during the 1980s war with Iraq and became a division commander thanks to Khamenei's endorsement. With the same blessing by Khamenei he became the deputy commander of Basij militia and then the commander of IRGC's financial conglomerate Khatamolanbia Headquarters where he served until 1997. Khamenei then appointed him as the commander of IRGC's air force.

Two years later in 1999, when Iranian students took to the streets and called Khamenei "dictator," Qalibaf and 23 senior IRGC commanders wrote a letter to then President Mohammad Khatami and threatened him that he IRGC was prepared to suppress the students. Meanwhile, during the 2017 presidential election campaigns, President Hassan Rouhani disclosed that during the anniversary of the student uprising in 2003 Qalibaf had called for violence and "a pincer attack" against the protesting students.

Khamenei had appointed Qalibaf as Police Chief in in 2000. In an audio released on social media he acknowledged that he and the IRGC Qods Force Commander General Qassem Soleimani wielded clubs on motorcycles in the streets to suppress the student protest.

Ten years later, during the 2009 post-election unrest, Qalibaf as the Mayor of Tehran, put municipal facilities at the disposal of those who suppressed the protests.

In 2005, he became the Mayor of Tehran, once again with direct support from Khamenei after his presidential bid failed. At the time, Qalibaf believed Khamenei's office supported his candidacy in the presidential elections but was surprised by the shift in Khamenei's support to Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. There is evidence indicating that Khamenei's son seriously intervened in that election.

President Ahmadinjad who was the mayor of Tehran before his presidency tried to appoint one of his aides as the mayor, but Qalibaf, as he says in an audio file released on social media, became the mayor thanks to Khamenei's office. He held the position for 12 years until 2017 when he took part in the presidential election for the third time. Eventually, he withdrew his candidacy in the last minute in favor of current Judiciary Chief Ebrahim Raisi.

With such a strong network in the IRGC and Khamenei's office, it is unlikely that anyone would follow up the corruption cases against Qalibaf. Some may call him "the most corrupt general," but now that he has taken over the Majles, he might still want to rise to the position of the President of the state.

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    Morad Vaisibiame

    Morad Veisi is a journalist and an editor at Radio Farda and is considered an expert in affairs related to Iran's IRGC and the Supreme Leader ayatollah Ali Khamenei.