A high-ranking Iranian official has admitted that "corruption" was the underlying reason for the collapse of a high-rise building that led to days of protests.
Raja News website which speaks for the ultraconservative Paydari party quoted governor general of Khuzestan Province Sadegh Khalilian as saying that the Metropol Towers were built during Iran's previous government, adding that "the building was erected on the foundations of corruption and unhealthy relations."
Officials say they have recovered more than 40 bodies but citizens say many more people were inside when it collapsed.
Earlier, Iranian media and social media activists had pointed out that the owner of Metropol maintained illicit links to individuals, as high-ranking as Ali Shamkhani, the Secretary of Iran's Supreme Council of National Security. They accused the bigwig of helping the owner Hossein Abdolbaghi by using his influence through local officials including his nephew Mo'ud Shamkhani.
Mr. Shamkhani, an IRGC general, categorically denied using his influence, but subsequently, other reports mentioned further details about the link including family bonds between the Shamkhanis and Abdolbaghis, which could not be denied.
The decision to hint at some of the corruption involved in building the towers could have been made at a higher level in the government. The official Instagram account of the Iranian government on June 5 also posted a photo of the ruins of Metropol Tower in Abadan that collapsed on 23 May. The text in the post quoted Khalilian as saying: "The Metropol incident is the consequence of unhealthy relations and lack of supervisory measures."
Thousands of people protesting in Abadan after the Metropol collapse. May 25, 2022
Khalilian was the first high-level official to confirm media reports about financial corruption in the tragedy. He acknowledged that there has been corruption in the province dating back to 2015-2020, distancing himself and the Raisi administration that assumed office in 2021.
Unlike most of Iran's local governors who come from the Revolutionary Guard’s top brass, Khalilian was previously an academic at the University of Ahvaz and the Teachers Training University in Tehran although he had started his career as a petty officer in the IRGC.
Khalilian said that the local authorities at the time were aware of the building's instability in with at least two series of reports given to them by the engineering supervisory body in 2017 and 2019, but they simply ignored it because of those "unhealthy relations", which means bribery in the Iranian administrative jargon.
He added that the building was illegally constructed in an alleyway that was only 4 meters wide and this made search and rescue efforts difficult, and that the building permit was for a 6-story building and five floors were added later.
Khalilian had earlier said that 13 local officials including the cities last three mayors are under arrest. Earlier this week, former governor general of Khuzestan Gholamreza Shariati who has been implicated in corruption cases, left Iran for the United Arab Emirates and reports about his "escape" were published on social media. Later, the Iranian Judiciary said that he was not implicated in the case.
On Tuesday, Shariati wrote on social media that he is back in Iran, however, there is no evidence that the statement was really made by him or if he did return. Khalilian said that leaving the country was a mistake by the former governor and called on the judiciary to take this into account.
Talking further about corruption Khalilian said, "Perhaps no money has changed hands, but when high-ranking officials take part in the opening ceremony of the building, this creates an aura of security around the owner, and everyone believes that he is a well-connected person."
Initial reports by local reporters living abroad indicated that Abdolbaghi had given expensive lands or buildings to some local officials as gift.