Khuzestan's ex-governor Gholamreza Shariati

Ex-Governor With Role In Building Collapse Leaves Iran For Dubai

Sunday, 06/05/2022

The former governor of Iran’s oil-rich Khuzestan province has left for Dubai, despite his potential culpability in the deadly collapse of a high-rise building.

The government’s official IRNA news website broke the news of Gholamreza Shariati’s move to leave the country, while several other current and former officials have been detained. He is said to have been one of the officials backing the owner of the building in his project that eventually violated many regulations.

The Metropol twin towers collapsed on May 23 burying more than 80 people under the rubble, with 42 bodies recovered so far, although the current governor insists that the number is 38. It is not clear what happened to the other 40 people who went missing, as most of the debris has been removed.

A report in local media said that 108 construction workers were on duty in each shift, in addition to businesses that had already opened their doors and visitors to the building. These numbers indicate that casualties could have been many more in the tragic event.

Immediately after the disaster it became apparent that the owner, Hossein Abdolbaghi, a well-connected businessman, had broken multiple regulations when constructing the building, having enjoyed the backing of officials.

The ruins of Metropol building in a May 25 photo

One prominent individual who appears to have been one of his protectors is the son of Ali Shamkhani, the secretary of the supreme national security council. Documents obtained by Iran International last week showed Mo’ud Shamkhani recommended Abdolbaghi to city authorities as a reliable businessman.

Shamkhani later denied any connections with the owner of Metropol.

But what the building owner did, was securing illegal permissions to build additional 5 floors, above the city’s building code allowing only 8-story-high structures. Metropol, which was almost completed when it collapsed had 13 floors.

The incident instantly became an example of government corruption and insider dealings by Islamic Republic officials and led to days of large anti-government protests in Khuzestan and elsewhere. The government deployed thousands of “anti-riot” special troops to Abadan and other cities in the province and arrested an unknown number of people, stopping the protests.

Abdolbaghi’s fate also remains uncertain. On the day of the incident, local law enforcement announced that the owner was arrested, but the following day, higher level officials claimed he had died in the incident and produced an unrecognizable body, which they claimed was Abdolbaghi and confirmed with DNA testing. Experts, on the other hand, insist that it would not be possible to complete a DNA identity authentication in a few days.

Rumors on social media said Abdolbaghi had left the country with the help of officials who were partners in crime, and he was possibly in Turkey. No one has been able to verify if he is dead or went abroad.

The controversy surrounding the Metropol towers is not the only scandal in which former governor Shariati has been implicated. In 2020, court proceedings in the case of an illegal privatization deal revealed that his wife tokk $200,000 in bribes from the owner of Haft-Tappeh sugar mill company to provide him cover when he failed to pay his workers for months.

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