September 29, 2014 Inquiry & Analysis Series No. 1120

The Power Struggle Between Khamenei And His Camp And Rafsanjani And His Camp – Part XI: Rafsanjani's Son Says: My Father Opposes 'Rule Of The Jurisprudent' But Won't Come Out Against Khamenei; Khamenei Tried And Failed To Remove My Father

September 29, 2014 | By Yossi Mansharof*
Iran | Inquiry & Analysis Series No. 1120


On August 20, 2014, the oppositionist Iranian daily Kayhan London published a previously unreleased 2012 interview conducted in London with Mehdi Hashemi, the son of Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani. The interviewer, Iranian journalist Bijan Farhoudi, explained that he was publishing the interview now following his discovery that a recording of it had been obtained by the Iranian intelligence ministry and by investigators in the current trial of Hashemi in Iran, because he wanted to prevent Hashemi's statements in it from being twisted or misused by the regime.[1]

In the interview, Mehdi Hashemi revealed that both he and his father are opposed to the principle of the "rule of the jurisprudent" set by the founder of the regime, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, and that a limit must be set for the supreme leader's – that is, Ali Khamenei's, term of office. The Iranian regime, he said, is in the controlled by an elite that is disconnected from the people, which remains in power because it controls capital, acts aggressively, and has support from Iranian security apparatuses.

He said that a real power struggle is underway within the ruling elite, and that Khamenei is cultivating this struggle with the aim of creating the false impression that there is a democratic discourse in the country, thus bolstering the regime. However, he said, Khamenei is simultaneously setting limits on actual discourse, and all those who are not part of the ruling elite – that is, most of the people – are under dictatorial rule.

The West, he argued, could topple the Iranian regime with the Libyan precedent – that is, with a combination of airstrikes and assistance from local forces such as Iran's Kurds.

Regarding his father's complicated years-long relationship with Khamenei, Mehdi said that in the 2009 presidential election, Khamenei had attempted to remove both his main rivals – Green Movement leader and former prime minister Mir-Hossein Mousavi and Rafsanjani, after both rejected the outcome of the election because, they said, they were fraudulent. Khamenei was forced to accept Rafsanjani's continued presence in the regime because of the strong support he received from top regime clerics, and because he feared that removing Rafsanjani altogether could set him up as a dangerous opposition leader.

Also in the interview, Hashemi discussed the claims against his family that they are corrupt due to their great wealth, and regarding the political murders in which his father was allegedly involved.

Mehdi Hashemi had left Iran in 2009, following the election unrest and claims by the regime that he had played a major role in organizing it; he faced death threats against him from regime elements[2] following his return to the country in September 2012, and in August 2013, prosecution against him on those charges and on charges of political corruption began, and is still underway.

Following are excerpts from his 2012 interview:[3]

"In Iran, [Running Afoul Of] Rafsanjani Is No Simple Thing... My Father Is The Force Of Wisdom In The Country"

Q: "...Where do you live today, Oxford or Dubai?

A: "Oxford.

Q: "Are you in contact with your father?

A: "Yes, we speak every evening.

Q: "Does your father still [feel] excommunicated even though he remains in his post as chairman of the Expediency Council? Why did Khamenei leave him in his post? Did Khamenei fear that Rafsanjani would do something?

A: "No, there are two reasons. Rafsanjani's job is not important, and he could have left for Qom and gone on to establish and lead the largest opposition group in the country. Not leaving Rafsanjani in his post would not have benefited for Khamenei. Of course, my father did not do this [i.e. he did not go to Qom and become an opposition leader]. This is an emotional thing. They [i.e. Rafsanjani and Khamenei] have been friends for 50 years. [Regarding] everything that was done against Rafsanjani, Khamenei said, 'I didn't do it, the judiciary did, and I didn't interfere."

Q: "Do you believe him?

A: "No, I don't not believe him, but if he didn't say that, what answer would he give the rest of the clerics in the country? All the great clerics are father's friends, from [Assembly of Experts member and Khamenei's representative to Razavi-Khorasan province Abbas Vaez-]Tabasi to [Assembly of Experts member and Tehran Friday prayer leader Mohammad] Emami Kashani, and all the ayatollahs in Qom. In Iran, [running afoul of] Rafsanjani is no simple thing.

Q: "I always thought that your father was the mainstay of this regime, and that the life of the regime was in his hands.

A: "My father is the force of wisdom in the country, and he protects the country in times of crisis. This was, of course, until six years ago [i.e. 2006, when Mahmoud Ahmadinejad became president]. His presence during crises guaranteed [a successful resolution], but now that presence is not the same guarantee it once was. Between 1989 and 1997, everything was in my father's hands.

Q: "Your father became known as an 'official assassin' (because of the assassination of those opposed to his presidency [1989-1997]). Most of the approximately 270 assassinations of [Iranian] political and social activists, as well as civilians – which were the focus of Reza Allamehzadeh's documentary Holy Crime – happened during your father's time.

A: "It is you who gave him that title, and it isn't true at all. I don't accept this. Bring a list and show me.

Mehdi Hashemi (Source:, August 20, 2014)

Q: "One of the figures assassinated during your father's term was Shapour Bakhtiar

A: "In Bakhtiar's case, I think my father knew [of the assassination]. First, Bakhtiar's death was on the orders of [regime founder Ayatollah Ruhollah] Khomeini. Second, Bakhtiar was the reason why [Iraq] attacked Iran [in 1980]. He was recognized as a war criminal by a tribunal headed by Ayatollah Yazdi [likely referring to Assembly of Experts deputy chair and Khamenei associate Mohammad Yazdi]. Documents were submitted showing that Bakhtiar went to Saddam and incited him to attack Iran.

Q: "Does your father refrain from travelling abroad because he fears being apprehended by INTERPOL?

A: "No, that's not so. My father has no INTERPOL Red Notice against him, and has not travelled abroad at all. (Interviewer note: During his presidency Hashemi Rafsanjani visited several countries including the former Soviet Union, Saudi Arabia, and several Far East countries, but he has not left Iran since the assassination of Bakhtiar and the Argentina bombing, after which INTERPOL issued a Red Notice for his arrest). [Jacques] Chirac invited him 10 times, but he never went there. Father went to Indonesia and Malaysia, but not to Western countries. [Francois] Mitterrand also invited him many times, but he never went. Why? Because he said, 'If I go abroad, they will realize that I hold no position and can promise them nothing.'

Q: "Does your father have a private army?

A: "No, he hasn't. His security personnel are members of the IRGC [Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps] – members of Khamenei's own people.

Q: "You are the son of the head of the Expediency Council. Do you consider yourself part of the regime?

A: "No, I do not see myself as part of the regime. As you know, there is a warrant for my arrest because of the affair of the [2009] election. They believe I was behind the events of the election, that I organized them, when it was the people themselves who took to the streets. Three million came [to demonstrate] because of their support for Mir-Hossein Mousavi. Had Khamenei sent us to prison, it would have worked to his disadvantage."

My Father Is Opposed To [The Concept Of] "Rule Of The Jurisprudent"

Q: "Undoubtedly, as a member [of institutions] associated with the regime, you believe in the 'rule of the jurisprudent?'

A: "No, I have no commitment to the rule of the jurisprudent. My father also opposes [this concept]. According to father, this matter is problematic. He addressed it in one of his speeches. But I would be lying if I said I am opposed to the regime of the Islamic Republic. I believe that there is a need for reforming the constitution. Our constitution was based on the French constitution; [under it] the president is deputy to the jurisprudent leader, and the prime minister is deputy to the president. The problem with this section of the constitution is that it notes that there need be no time limit to the term of the jurisprudent. If the jurisprudent ruler remains [in power] for eight or 10 years, [it is a sign that] the Assembly of Experts is not carrying out its role properly. Our constitution is problematic because of this issue...

Q: "[Now], 30 years after the [Islamic] Revolution, Hashemi Rafsanjani is still known as one of Iran's most famous billionaires. Have you heard the joke about your father saying 'we were sitting around and suddenly saw that Iran had fallen [from the sky] right onto our property?' Did your family inherit this wealth?

A: "Even before the revolution, my father owned 1,000 lots. He gave 980 of them to religious students, and kept the remaining 20 for his children. One lot was in a good location outside Qom. [My father] had three partners... The price of these lands shot up suddenly, even before the revolution.

Q: "It has been claimed that you, your father, and the rest of your family pocketed a large sum of money and transferred it overseas. Is this true?

A: "No, this is an absolute lie. Just as they used to say that [the deposed Mohammad Reza] Shah took $25 billion [when he was exiled]. The Shah took nothing. You see?

Q: "Do you believe that the Shah didn't take that fortune with him?

A: "I believe the Shah took $50 million, as they imagine... Where does Reza Pahlavi live now? Let's compare... I'm willing to exchange all I have [for everything] he [has]...

Q: "You are wealthier than he is!

A: "I swear to God that I am not. [Again,] I'd swap everything I have for [for everything] he [has]...

Q: "So how come you're not working here in England?

A: "Who said I'm not working? I get a salary here, £7,000-8,000 a month. I work for Azad University [which is affiliated with Rafsanjani]. We have eight branches outside Iran, and I visit them frequently...

Q: "You have nothing besides [the fortune in] Iran?

A: "No, I have nothing. I have a [bank] account in Dubai.

Q: "And what about himself [i.e. Rafsanjani]?

A: "What does he need [money] for? He is going to die in two days.

Q: "How is your father's health?

A: "Good."

Khamenei Sometimes Sinks Into A Depression

Q: "And how is Khamenei? They say he has prostate cancer and will not last much longer.

A: "His cancer is getting better.

Q: "They say he sinks into depression.

A: "Yes, sometimes.

Q: "They say he smokes opium.

A: "I don't know. He smokes cigarettes and a pipe, but I don't know about opium and drugs. I haven't seen [him do it]. Now he smokes cigarettes and a pipe, which I have seen. No one has seen him smoke opium. They say he does but no one has seen it. I am not saying yes or no. Whenever he came to our house at night he would sleep in my room. Sometimes he would spend the night in the Niaravan [neighborhood], where he has four or five houses. Most of the time he sleeps [in] Pastor [street]."

Khamenei "Wanted To Remove My Father, And Mousavi Also"

Q: "Are these conflicts between the heads of the [various Iranian branches of] authority authentic, or is this a simulated war?

A: "These conflicts are precisely what holds the regime together and stabilizes it, because the people see them as [evidence of] democracy. It is not a simulated war, it is a real conflict. Obviously, these conflicts are internal. There is democracy within our regime, they have democracy within their own framework. But outside [this] elite there is a dictatorship.

"Khamenei cultivates these conflicts. All members of the elite know exactly how far they can go [in the conflicts among themselves] – that is, they have accepted the principles [of Iran's political game]. In the last round [i.e. the 2005 presidential election], 40 million people turned out to vote; in the election before that, 30 million voted for [Mohammad] Khatami. These election [campaigns] keep the Islamic Republic [regime] standing. But in the [2009] election, Mousavi rejected the principles [of Iran's political game]. Even my father (Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani) rejected the principles, and [the result was] a conflict that called the legitimacy of the regime into question. They are really scheming against us, because they tell us that we are 'out of the game.' [But] we reply, 'It is you who are out of the game, because the elections [in Iran] need to be clean.

Q: "Do you really think that the 2009 presidential election [results were] fraudulent?

A: "I believe that if the elections had gone to a second round, Mousavi would have won. I have data [showing] that Mousavi received more votes [than Ahmadinejad] in the first round... he received 2% more than Ahmadinejad – about 48 [percent] versus 46 [percent].

Q: "What did you decide amongst yourselves who should have been elected?

A: "We said that whoever gets more votes [should be president].

Q: "So why didn't they [the ruling elite] agree?

A: "They acted stupidly. Do you know why this election caused a crisis? [Because] Mr. Khamenei (laughs) wanted to remove my father, and also Mousavi [from power]."

The Regime Can Be Removed Using The Libyan Precedent Combined With Internal Forces

Q: "How long do you figure the regime will last?

A: "For the past 30 years, people here have been saying 'the regime will collapse this year.' The regime relies on three foundations: money – which they have; one leader – which they have; and a group of supporters. If the pressure from without becomes unbearable, certain precedents could play out, but (the regime in) Iran will not end as easily [as in those cases]. The foreigners can act according to the Libyan precedent, or other countries can act [together] to level heavy sanctions [against Iran]. The Americans are making every effort to arrive at this outcome.

Q: "Don't you think that a rift among the security apparatuses in [Iran] could lead to strikes [by the people] in [the country]?

A: "The [Iranian] security branches' recruitment system is meticulous. All recruits are vetted back five generations. They grew up in this system [that is, there is no chance that there will be a rift].

"If the sanctions are stepped up, and if the foreigners operate according to different precedents, such as the Libyan precedent, things may happen. But they will not happen by means of these childish games [that is, the current sanctions]. We have some precedents for changing the regime – the Yugoslavia precedent, the Iraq precedent, and others. The Iraq precedent is dead, the Libyan requires [UN] Security Council approval – and if the Russians back down, it could succeed. [This precedent involves] military strikes from above and the use of domestic – as opposed to foreign – forces such as the Kurds, [along with] people taking to the streets."

* Y. Mansharof is a research fellow at MEMRI.


[1] Following claims by Hashemi's attorney in early September that the interview was fabricated, Kayhan London released the audio tape. (London), September 2, 2014.

[2] In October 2013, the regime website Afsaran published a poster calling for his death, and in 2014 an Iranian website published a regime approved game where users must kill him and the other "heads of fitna" – Mir-Hossein Mousavi, his wife Zahra Rahnavard, and Mehdi Karroubi. See MEMRI Special Dispatch No. 5499, The Struggle Between Khamenei And Rafsanjani Over The Iranian Leadership – Part VIII: Rafsanjani Receives Death Threats, October 28, 2013; and MEMRI Inquiry & Analysis Series Report No. 1094, The Power Struggle Between Khamenei And His Camp And Rafsanjani And His Camp – Part X: The Political And Media Confrontation Escalates Into Reciprocal Threats, May 27, 2014.

[3], (London), August 20, 2014.

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