A session of the Iranian parliament

SUV Bribe Scandal In Iran Continues To Divide Khamenei Loyalists

Sunday, 05/07/2023

A recent scandal about Iranian lawmakers receiving SUVs from the industry minister to refrain from his impeachment has expanded to engulf top government officials.

An investigative committee in the parliament announced Saturday there is evidence that presidential administration officials and their family members also received cars, “outside legal procedures.”

Importing cars has been mostly banned by the government in recent years and domestic production is limited, making personal vehicles a sought-after commodity. Obtaining domestically produced vehicles is hard and there are long waiting lists that boosts their price among buyers.

In late April, a scandal broke out when a lawmaker revealed that around 70 members of parliament had received SUVs from former industry minister Reza Fatemi Amin last year, when parliament was examining a motion to impeach him for the country’s economic crisis.

Iran’s Industry Minister Reza Fatemi-Amin after the parliament session to impeach him on April 30, 2023

After initial denials by the minister and other officials, he was eventually impeached April 30 as the scandal raised a media frenzy and a wave of criticism even by regime insiders.

The scandal has badly hurt the already frail legitimacy of the parliament packed with hardliners elected with little competition. It also came on the heels of unprecedented anti-regime protests and just proved the arguments of opponents who say the Islamic Republic is lawless and undemocratic.

The political pressure generated by growing popular resentment and protests have opened a rift among hardliners who just a few months ago were representing one united front of Khamenei loyalists.

When the SUV scandal broke, some in parliament threatened other hardliners in the government that it would be easy to reveal the same corrupt practices in the presidential administration and at government ministries. Now, they are revealing information about ‘car trading’ in the executive branch as a modern euphemism for ‘horse trading.’ 

Lawmaker Ehsan Arkani, who heads a committee supervising the presidential administration told local media Saturday that the parliament has evidence of officials receiving vehicles for one of the government-controlled car companies that also produces SUVs.

“A special sales package was designed by this carmaker for people whose names were submitted by various ministries, and we have these names,” Arkani claimed, although so far no names have been made public in the scandal.

Lawmakers accuse their peers of receiving ‘car bribes’ and now executive branch officials are accused of conspiring to do the same, while none of the parties has released any names in the political tug of war.

However, more than 200 members of parliament have sent text messages to the public saying they were never involved in the scheme and did not receive a car.

Parliamentary elections will take place next March and political observers say the current parliament has little to show after three years in office, amid a serious economic crisis. 

The national currency has lost half its value since September and annual inflation is believed to be above 50 percent. People are struggling even to buy basic food items, and politicians are mudslinging over new cars.

While President Ebrahim Raisi’s special inspector for the executive branch, Hassan Darvishian, alleged recently that lawmakers had received more than 100 cars illegally, Arkani hit back, saying Mr. Darvishian’s job is to keep an eye on executive branch officials and entities, not to inspect the parliament.

“It is better if Mr. Darvishian issued a report about vehicles given to people in the presidential administration’, and if he is not willing to do that, parliament would be happy to oblige, Arkanian said.

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