A top cleric in Iran has tried to distance himself from a major bribery case as the man arrested red-handed for receiving a hefty bribe in euros is his relative.

Iranian analyst Ehsan Mehrabi told Iran International TV that the suspect, a chief inspector in the office of Roads and Housing Minister Rostam Ghasemi would have not been able to receive the bribe if he had not used his link to hardliner Ayatollah Naser Makarem Shirazi.

Qasem Makarem Shirazi, a grandson of the Ayatollah's brother was initially named as a candidate for the post of deputy minister of roads and housing, but intelligence organizations in Iran rejected his appointment. Nontheless, the minister appointed him as an adviser and chief inspector, a post that did not need clearance from the intelligence authorities, reports from Tehran said.

A statement issued by the office of Makarem Shirazi made it clear that man was not his son or grandson but stopped short of saying that he was linked to him anyway. The statement added that the bribe-taker had no business link to the ayatollah's office and was never supported by that office in Qom.

Earlier, Vice President Mohammad Hosseini had confirmed that a high-ranking roads and housing ministry official was arrested but did not name anyone. Later the ministry named the man and a lawmaker, Ardeshir Motahari, revealed at the that the detainee was arrested while receiving a bribe in euros.

Rostam Ghasemi, minister of roads and urban development

Motahari wrote in several tweets that the minister should be summoned to the parliament and questioned about the case, but he was pretending to be ill. Ghasemi's pictures appeared in the media on a hospital bed while government spokesman Ali Bahadori was visiting him. The ministry said that Ghasemi had a back pain.

Meanwhile, Khabar Online reported that the minister appeared in public at a meeting with Vice President Mohammad Mokhber Saturday afternoon, only a few days after what he said was a spinal surgery.

Khabar Online wrote that public opinion expects an explanation from the minister. The website also said that the revelation about the bribe, has heightened expectations that Ghasemi, who was already on parliament’s crosshairs, will be fired.

Since President Ebrahim Raisi took office in August 2021 Iran’s economic situation has deteriorated further with a close to 50-percent inflation rate abd a falling currency. As US sanctions continue in the absence of a nuclear deal, Raisi has been unable to fulfil his campaign promises, such as building one million housing units a year.

This led to an early push in parliament to impeach some of his economic ministers, Ghasemi being the first target. So far, higher authorities have prevented that from happening but the bribery scandal can be the last straw to break the camel’s back.

Khabar Online said that President Raisi is likely to take advantage of the case and fire his minister to prove that he has no red lines in his much-heralded campaign against corruption.In a report on Sunday, Rouydad24 website said that Ghasem Makarem Shirazi was a candidate for parliament from Shiraz in 2020 but did not win. He joined the Ministry after Rostam Ghasemi, who also comes from the Fars Province, became the Minister of Roads and Construction.

Since taking office in August 2021, the Raisi administration has been under fire by critics and even supporters for the nepotism that led to appointing unqualified individuals.

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