Esfandiar Rahim Mashaei , a very close ally of former president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, was arrested on the afternoon of Saturday, March 17. The pro-Ahmadinejad website Dolat-e Bahar [Persian link] was first to report the news, stating that a group of security agents stopped Mashaei in his car before arresting him.
The office of Tehran’s prosecutor announced that Mashaei, who was once Ahmadinejad’s chief of staff and his first vice president, had been arrested for “questioning.” Prior to his arrest, on March 15, Mashaei had protested against a court decision handed down to his associate Hamid Baghaei by burning a copy of the verdict outside the British embassy. Baghaei, another Ahmadinejad ally, was sentenced to 15 years in prison on March 13 for embezzlement and illegal business transactions. Mashaei’s lawyer, Mehran Abdollahpour, told the Iranian Labor News Agency [ILNA] that his client was “most likely” arrested “because he burnt a copy of a court’s verdict against Hamid Baghaei outside the British Embassy” [Persian link].
Mashaei said he believes the case against Baghaei and his own arrest were ordered by the Queen of England, and that the order was conveyed by the British foreign minister to Iranian authorities.
This outlandish accusation, however, is not an isolated incident. In a video interview on November 8, 2017, Ahmadinejad accused “a member of the parliament” of having met a “British intelligence agent.” Although Ahmadinejad did not name the MP, some of his supporters posted tweets saying he was referring to Ali Larijani, the speaker of the Iranian parliament. For some time now, Ahmadinejad has engaged in open warfare against the influential Larijani brothers.
In September 2017, the website Amad News reported: “Zahra Ardeshir Larijani, daughter of Sadegh Amoli Larijani, has been accused of espionage for the West and a ‘top secret dossier’ has been filed for her.” Judiciary Chief Sadegh Larijani denied the report but since then, Ahmadinejad and Hamid Reza Baghaei have repeatedly alluded to it.
Others accused another Larijani brother, Mohammad Javad Larijani, the head of the judiciary’s Human Rights Headquarters, of espionage in 1997 after he secretly met with a British diplomat.
As it happens, President Hassan Rouhani holds a PhD from Glasgow Caledonian University in Scotland. Over the last two years, media outlets affiliated with Ahmadinejad have raised doubt about his PhD after the website for the Center for Strategic Research, a Rouhani-led think tank, wrongly attributed his PhD to Glasgow University instead of Glasgow Caledonian University.
In other words, Ahmadinejad’s associates believe that the heads of the three branches of the Iranian state are somehow connected to the United Kingdom or under the thumb of the British authorities. They describe their legal troubles as a “British project,” and that is why Mashaei burned the verdict against Baghaei in front of the British Embassy.
Mashaei is also facing additional charges for insulting the Supreme Leader, illegal possession of government properties, insulting Islamic Republic authorities and spreading falsehood. The case for these charges remains open.
Mashaei is Ahmadinejad’s closest ally and confidant, and his daughter is married to Ahmadinejad’s son. Ahmadinejad has distanced himself from Iran’s ruling establishment over the last couple of years, and, because of his close ties to the former president, Mashaei’s arrest will be seen as a new significant twist in an unfolding and often dramatic story.
In fact, Iran’s conservative principlists believe it’s because of Mashaei that Ahmadinejad gradually distanced himself from them, beginning in 2008 when they say Mashaei began to have considerable influence over the president. Media close to the hardliners have regularly referred to Mashaei as the “head of a deviant group” and some have labeled him “Ahmadinejad’s Rasputin.”
In early 2011, when Ahmadinejad was still president and had chosen Mashaei as his first vice president, Ayatollah Abdolnabi Namazi, the Friday Prayers of Kashan, disclosed [Persian link] that General Mohammad Ali Jafari, commander of the Revolutionary Guards, had asked the Supreme Leader’s permission to arrest Mashaei. According to him, Ayatollah Khamenei told the general to instead get rid of the “operatives” of his “deviant” movement [Persian link]. Since then there have been many rumors that Mashaei might be arrested.
It is not clear how long Mashaei will remain in custody. But his arrest proves that the Iranian judiciary, led by Sadegh Larijani, is not about to retreat when it comes to Ahmadinejad or his “deviant” associate.
In a statement on March 17 condemning his confidant’s arrest, Ahmadinejad wrote that he would seek justice from the 12th Imam, the Shia Messiah. As things stand now, it does not appear that he has many other options available to him.