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Top Ahmadinejad aide indicted amid Iran graft case

Reuters
Iran's President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad visits Imam Ali shrine in Najaf
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Iran's President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad visits Imam Ali shrine in Najaf, Iraq, July 19, 2013. REUTERS/Karim …

DUBAI (Reuters) - Former Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's top aide has been indicted, apparently in connection with allegations of corruption in the previous administration, Iranian media reported on Monday.

Former Vice President Mohammad-Reza Rahimi has been the target of a lengthy judicial investigation into his possible role in several high-profile bribery and embezzlement cases that also spill into Turkey, as well as Central and East Asia.

Rahimi has denied all the accusations and last year, while still in office, he said he would "volunteer to have my hands severed if even one of these charges is proved against me".

Mohsen Eftekhari, a Tehran judge, told Shargh newspaper that Rahimi had been indicted and that his case would be referred to a special court. He did not specify the charges against him.

Rahimi has reported links to jailed businessman Babak Zanjani, chairman of Sorinet Group, who is accused of skimming up to $2.7 billion off illegal oil exports, as Ahmadinejad's government tried to bypass international sanctions against Iran over its disputed nuclear program.

Analysts say Zanjani's connections with senior officials in Ahmadinejad's administration and in the Revolutionary Guards - a powerful branch of Iran's military with extensive business interests - have made him a political target, especially since the advent of President Hassan Rouhani's government in August.

"Economic corruption at this scale is unprecedented," Eshagh Jahangiri, who serves in Rouhani's administration in the job once held by Rahimi, told the official Iran Magazine on Monday.

Jahangiri, appointed by executive order as the lead investigator into inside dealings, said billions of dollars had been deposited into Zanjani's offshore bank to pay shadowy oil contractors. "Up until now, these funds and proceeds from oil sales have not been returned to government coffers," he said.

Rahimi has made no comment on the indictment and his lawyer, Mohammad-Reza Naderi, told Shargh daily on Monday he would also stay quiet because this was in his client's interest for now.

The English-language Turkish Daily News quoted an Iranian parliamentarian as saying that an Iranian judicial team would travel to Turkey to try to uncover secret assets of Zanjani and his alleged business partner, Reza Zarrab, who is a suspect in a high-level graft probe in Turkey.

(Reporting by Mehrdad Balali; Additional reporting by Humeyra Pamuk in Ankara)

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