Mohammad Bagher Ghalibaf in a meeting with government members, April 18, 2022

Mohammad Bagher Ghalibaf in a meeting with government members, April 18, 2022

Iran’s Parliament Speaker Losing Ground After Shopping Scandal

7/21/2022

The ultra-conservative Paydari Front seems to have succeeded in taking more ground from Parliament Speaker Mohammad-Bagher Ghalibaf after a scandal in April.

On July 17, lawmakers re-elected Nasrollah Pejmanfar, a die-hard Paydari member, as chairman of the high-profile Article 90 committee. This will give Paydari more leverage against Ghalibaf and his allies in the parliament.

The rivalry between Ghalibaf and Paydari members dates to the 2013 presidential elections in which both Ghalibaf and the Paydari-backed former nuclear negotiator Saeed Jalili ran against moderate conservative Hassan Rouhani who won with reformists’ support.

Ultra-conservatives whose domain of influence in the Islamic Republic’s power structures is consistently growing, dealt a heavy blow on Ghalibaf in April by leaking a video of his family members returning to Iran from a shopping trip to Turkey with massive luggage that included a layette set for his unborn grandchild.

The video leaked on social media by a well-known hardliner activist, Vahid Ashtari, was followed by a barrage of criticism and resurfacing of other alleged corruption cases against the family, which prompted calls for his resignation.

The scandal got worse as the whistle blower claimed that during the trip, Ghalibaf’s wife had bought two apartments in Istanbul worth $1.6 million.

Ashtari’s revelations portrayed the Speaker as a hypocrite who tells others to live in austerity while his own family lives in luxury. Referring to government policies, Ashtari argued that it was not acceptable for the speaker to preach to people to buy Iranian-made cars and other products, ban the import of home appliances, and send his own family abroad to buy a layette set for a grandchild.

Ghalibaf's detractors say his wife boght two apartment in Istanbul's Sky Land buildings

Many speculated that the shopping spree by Ghalibaf’s family may have not been leaked if it were not for the undercover surveillance of him and his family members by elements close to the Paydari faction in intelligence organizations.

Ghalibaf has weathered several major scandals in the past decade with the help of his political allies. During his term as mayor of the capital Tehran, several of Ghalibaf’s deputies and people in his close circle were sentenced to 20 to 30 years in prison for corruption but the judiciary never prosecuted him.

As before, after the recent scandal he threatened legal action against those who he accused of defaming him but his attempt at minimizing the shopping scandal which came to be known as “layette-gate” did little to protect him against rivals’ attacks.

Ghalibaf has also suffered the loss of a very powerful ally, the IRGC intelligence chief Hossein Ta’eb, who was dismissed in June for other reasons, but his absence could make Ghalibaf much more vulnerable to his rivals.

Ghalibaf’s supporters say in recent months that the state broadcaster (IRIB), whose head Payman Jebelli has close ties to Paydari has been intentionally underrepresenting news related to his activities including his “provincial visits”.

“The few seconds-long coverage of Dr. Ghalibaf’s provincial trip by the state broadcaster is nothing other than censorship driven by partisan interests … This kind of news coverage related to speaker of the parliament is spiteful,” a Ghalibaf supporter tweeted earlier this month.

The presidential elections last year consolidated hardliners grip on all three government branches, which are now united against reformist and moderate conservative rivals. But in recent months many have predicted an eventual confrontation between the parliament speaker and the president and the emergence of deep rifts in the so-called ‘Principlist’ camp.

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