A journalist in Iran has accused authorities of covering up the escape of the owner of a building that collapsed in Abadan Monday, and claiming that he is dead.

The Iranian Red Crescent has reported eleven deaths and warned about the collapse of the rest of the building. So far 39 have been pulled from the rubble alive. Rescue operations cintinued Tuesday as there were as many as 50 people buried under the rubble. Three rescue workers were injured on Tuesday when another part of the building collapsed.

Saeed Hafezi, a journalist and whistle-blower, claims that Hossein Abdolbaghi, owner of one of the ten-story Metropol twin towers which collapsed Monday, was seen leaving the building half an hour before it collapsed, and authorities are lying about his death in the accident. Hafezi says he has personally spoken to a witness.

Radio Goosheh Kenar, a local internet radio station run by Hafezi, on Tuesday published an audio file sent by a man claiming to be an employee of the Abadan coroner’s office who claims officials of the coroner’s office were pressured by unidentified authorities to issue a death certificate in Abdolbaghi’s name for an unidentifiable body they brought in. The man whose voice was altered in the recording says the coroner’s office has so far not relented to outside pressure and declined to issue a death certificate.

Abdolbaghi the well-connected owner of the building who is ither dead or alive

Initially, suspicions arose right after the collapse of the building on Monday when media, including the official news agency (IRNA), reported Abdolbaghi’s arrest but on Tuesday prosecutor general of Khuzestan province, Sadegh Jafari-Chegeni, told the judiciary’s news agency, Mizan News, that he died in the incident. Abdolbaghi’s identity papers were discovered on a very badly damaged and unidentifiable body in the rubble, he said, and the body was eventually identified as belonging to him, officials claimed, without saying who made the identification.

A photo taken from CCTV footage in the area has also been circulating on social media allegedly showing Abdolbaghi running away after the incident. Dariush Memar, a journalist currently residing in London, in a tweet Monday said he had met Abdolbaghi in Iran many times and he can confirm that the man in the photo is highly likely to be him, “unless a photo of his body is shown at the coroner’s office by the justice department of Abadan.”

Abdolbaghi, 40, is a well-known entrepreneur in Khuzestan with alleged strong connections with influential officials and centers of power. In 2018 the ministry of industries, mines and trade named him as the top entrepreneur of the Arvand Free Zone in Khuzestan.

In an article published in August 2020 in Feydus, an Iranian news website, Memar accused Abdolbaghi of corruption. “His formula for amassing wealth, like many others in Iran today, is very simple: Clever management of connections and opportunities based on rente.” ‘Rente’ is a French word used in Persian to imply privileges resulting from undue influence.

He also had close connections with the police and security forces who once gave an award.

The head of Iran’s Construction Engineering Organization, Hamzeh Shakib, on Monday said adding three extra stories to the original plan built illegally had caused the tragedy of the building’s collapse. He also said the organization had several times reported critical faults in the construction of the building, including in their most recent report, but the municipality of Abadan which was responsible for stopping the construction ignored the warnings.

Authorities say they have arrested ten officials including the current mayor of Abadan and two former mayors, for negligence leading to the tragedy of the building’s collapse.

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