An extensive effort is under way in Iran to downplay a major financial corruption case at the Mobarakeh Steel Plant, involving many influential regime insiders.

The details of the corruption scheme reaching $3 billion was exposed by a social media activist after the Iranian parliament published the outcome of an investigation into the case, without naming names.

Although the report presented by the Majles (parliament) vaguely pointed out that many individuals and government organizations were implicated in the case, documents revealed by whistleblowers on social media showed that many regime insiders and organizations affiliated with both leading political factions took bribes from the steel company.

The steel firm paid threw around hundreds of millions of dollars trying to coopt all regime insiders and buy their silence, while its managers engaged in corrupt business practices.

Mobarakeh Steel is a publicly traded company, but government entities hold most shares and managers are political appointees similar to dozens of other government businesses.

Those implicated include political and cultural figures, journalists, publishers, top clerics and their family members, as well as tens of media outlets affiliated with various political factions in Iran.

Semi-officials news agency ISNA reported on Monday that 168 of the 290 lawmakers at the Majles voted for referring the case to the Judiciary. However, various actors have been trying to downplay the significance of the case.

Corruption ‘not systemic

There has also been a great deal of efforts in the media to prove that corruption is not institutionalized in the government. There is also a lot of sensitivity on the part of government officials including President Ebrahim Raisi toward the term "systemic corruption." Raisi's preferred description is "organized corruption."

Some influential members of Iran's political elite listening to Supreme Leader ALi Khamenei, April 12, 2022

Although many news outlets such as Mehr news agency and government officials have tried to attribute the corruption case to the government of President Hassan Rouhani, the ten-page list that has been published on social media includes current and former officials.

Meanwhile, in a paradoxical statement, the public relations office of the Majles has said the sheer publication of this report indicates the system is not corrupt. Earlier President Raisi had also reiterated that "The system is clean," although in the same statement he called on the Judiciary to deal with those behind the corruption case.

Denial and silence by those implicated

ISNA reported that former Vice President Es'haq Jahangiri, former chief of staff of the Presidential office Mahmoud Vaezinejad, and reformist journalist and newspaper publisher Mohammad Atyrianfar have already tried to deny their involvement in the case. This comes while, seminarians and other top clerics as well as government officials implicated have remained silent.

The Iranian state television, IRIB has also offered brief explanations about hundreds of billions of rials it has received from the Mobarakeh Steel Plant. The IRIB accused the publishers of the report of inaccuracy.

Meanwhile, other reports say the suspension of the steel plant from the Tehran Stock Exchange was reversed after one day. Nonetheless, many investors and small shareholders have said on social media that their investments have been ruined.

A general view of the Mobarakey Stell Plant near Esfahan

Other hardline media outlets including Kayhan which operates under the aegis of Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei's office and Javan newspaper, the mouthpiece of the Revolutionary Guard, IRGC, have so far remained silent about getting money from the steel plant. Also remaining silent are the social media influencers who have reportedly got hefty sums to turn a blind eye to the plant's inappropriate financial transactions.

Despite the reports about referring the case to the Judiciary, no complaint had been filed until Tuesday according to Judiciary Chief Gholamhossein Mohseni Ejei, ISNA reported.

Discrediting leaked information

The Majles PR Office stressed that the report and figures published on social media are not the final report about the case and thus are not accurate. This comes while according to social media activists, even the head of the investigation committee has received money from the steel plant although there is no independent verification of the accusation.

What is certain is that social media activists, including hardliner Seyyed Mostafa Bijani have said that reformists and hardline conservative are equally responsible for and involved in the corruption case.

Lotfollah Siahkali, the deputy chief of the Majles investigation committee has said that the corruption case at the Mobarakeh Steel Plant is only the tip of the iceberg and corruption is far more widespread in the government. Nonetheless, Majles Speaker Mohammad Bagher Ghalibaf said on Wednesday that the report should have not been published before due legal investigation.

Although some elements at the Majles still insist that the report is genuinely significant and alarming, it appears that many in the Iranian government would like to push the case under the carpet as too many influential individuals and organizations including the Ministry of Intelligence are involved in the case. Their solution appears to be keeping silent until the case is forgotten or superseded by the next controversial issue in the country.

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