The speaker of Iran’s parliament tried Saturday to minimize a scandal about his family’s luxury shopping trip to Turkey, which has put his integrity in question.

Mohammad Bagher Ghalibaf claimed before the official opening of the parliament's session on Saturday that there is a "story behind the story" over the disclosures about his family's shopping spree in Turkey.

Ghalibaf said that he was against the trip to Turkey, but his family decided to go Istanbul regardless of his opposition. He explained that his wife had to accompany her daughter and son-in-law to take care of his pregnant daughter, the Iranian Labor News Agency (ILNA) reported.

The scandal broke on April 20, when videos began circulating on social media showing Ghalibaf’s family returning from Turkey with many pieces of luggage, in what appeared to be accessories for his daughter’s baby on the way. Later more reports emerged that the family also bought two apartments in Istanbul worth $1.6 million during the trip.

He claimed that the controversy about the shopping spree was "fiction," adding that the rumors about the excess baggage was all lies and accusations.

"Many told me that that there was nothing special about the trip as it was a private visit. My family did not use diplomatic passport and did not benefit from what they were entitled to based on protocols. They travelled like all other citizens. So, they told me I did not need to take an official position on it," said Ghalibaf.

He added: "But I told them that what they did was not acceptable and that they should apologize to the people. And they did apologize immediately before anyone said anything." Ghalibaf added: "Very few people would ever do that."

Ghalibaf with his son who tried to defend his father in the wake of the scandal.

However, the parliament speaker did not explain how his family could afford such a trip on his salary, when the fall in the value of the national currency has made monthly wages less than $200 for most Iranians.

Ghalibaf claimed that "some people who had political intentions continued mudslinging. All the evidence point to the fact there was a political project to tarnish my image." He asked: "How did they find out about the most private matters in my family? How confidential information was put at their disposal? And when they realized that the shopping was not anything important, they fabricated the story about buying real estate."

Ghalibaf further claimed that his political opponents were trying to tarnish the image of the parliament because Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei had called it "a revolutionary parliament."

The Majles Speaker said that intelligence organizations have started an investigation the matter and I will chase the case until the end because it is the prestige and status of the Majls which is at stake.

The statement by Ghalibaf about the investigation comes while his aides including Mahmoud Razavi had charged earlier that a certain intelligence agency as behind the disclosures.

Following the meeting, some 233 lawmakers wrote a letter to call on the country's main intelligence agencies, the Ministry of Intelligence and the IRGC Intelligence Organization, to confront "those who launched the mudslinging project against Ghalibaf."

Speaking in Ghalibaf's defense, last week Hossein Ali Shahryari the chairman of the Majles Health Committee told reporters that some lawmakers including Ghalibaf are so busy that they are often not aware of what their family members are doing. Shahryari further said that Ghalibaf should not be blamed for what his family members have done.

Meanwhile, Seyyed Jafar Tashakkori Hashemi, a former aide of Ghalibaf at the Tehran City Council said Ghalibaf's family members are financially independent of the Speaker and they go abroad for shopping like some nine million other Iranians who do so every year.

Ghalibaf’s defenders also resorted to another excuse, which sounded flimsy to many Iranians. They argued that the family’s trip was a “private matter.”

The support by 233 of the parliament's 290 lawmakers, possibly indicates Khamenei’s support for Ghalibaf’s re-election as Majles Speaker for next week. 

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