September 25, 2019 Special Dispatch No. 8292

Senior Iranian Regime Ayatollahs Trade Accusations Of Corruption; Ayatollah Amoli Larijani Exposes Corruption In Regime, Amid Power Struggles In Regime Leadership

September 25, 2019
Iran | Special Dispatch No. 8292

Ayatollah Mohammad Yazdi, a senior official in Iran's Islamic regime who is a member of the Guardian Council and former chairman of the Assembly of Experts and the judiciary, recently lashed out at Ayatollah Amoli Larijani, another senior Iranian official, accusing him of financial corruption and calling on him to keep his alleged promise – which Larijani denied making – to move to Najaf, the holy Shi'ite center in Iraq.[1]

Ayatollah Larijani, who chairs the Expediency Council and is a member of the Guardian Council, chaired the judiciary from 2009 until earlier this year, and he was also once considered as heir apparent to Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei. He is one of several brothers in the upper echelons of the regime; Ali Larijani is Majlis speaker, Mohammad Javad Larijani is secretary of the judiciary's Human Rights Committee and advises Khamenei, and Fazel Larijani is a member of the Supreme Council of the Cultural Revolution.

The Larijani brothers have been accused in the past of financial corruption, for example in 2013 by then-Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. On the present occasion, Amoli Larijani is suspected of involvement in corruption in connection with the arrest of his right-hand man, senior judiciary official Akbar Tabari, on corruption charges. In addition, Amoli Larijani was recently attacked three times on state television; this is unprecedented, because the Iranian broadcasting authority is directly run by Khamenei, and making personal attacks on regime officials on television is unheard-of.   

In response to Ayatollah Yazdi's accusations, Amoli Larijani published a five-page open letter to Yazdi, on August 18, 2019, charging him with character assassination, spreading lies, moral corruption, religious ignorance, and lack of understanding of his areas of responsibility as a senior member of regime councils. He revealed the names of officials he said were involved in financial corruption crimes, among them senior officials in Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC), and announced that he had in his possession additional secret information about the financial corruption crimes of other regime officials and their offspring. He went on to demand that the media campaign against him cease, hinting that it was directed from above.

Larijani's harsh criticism of senior regime officials, whether for being incompetent or for moral and financial corruption, is in fact criticism of Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei, who personally appointed them. It should be noted that in Iran, it is unacceptable to criticize individuals or bodies appointed by Khamenei, although it is acceptable to criticize elected individuals or bodies such as the president and the cabinet.

This exchange of harsh accusations between two ayatollahs on the highest administrative level is extraordinary for Iran, and appears to reflect a struggle for the future of the leadership of the country's Islamic regime between supporters of the incoming judiciary chairman Ebrahim Raisi and those of Ayatollah Amoli Larijani, whose status and prestige have declined.

It is also notable that other regime officials, headed by Supreme Leader Khamenei and including the other three Larijani brothers, have maintained a thunderous silence and have refrained from taking sides. Three senior regime ayatollahs who did address the matter have called for order and demanded that the two rival ayatollahs stop their public brawling.

On August 19, the day after Larijani's letter was published, Ayatollah Ahmad Jannati, who chairs the Assembly of Experts and the Guardian Council, promised that soon the two feuding ayatollahs would be seen together and that "[Iran's] enemies should not crave [further disagreement among Iran's top leadership], should not rejoice [in it] and should not count on ostensible disputes. Along with their disagreement, the [regime] officials are of one mind regarding the aspirations of the [Islamic] Revolution and regarding hatred of the enemies."[2] Indeed, two weeks after the letter's publication, on August 28, Guardian Council spokesman Abbas Ali Kadkhodaee tweeted a photo of the two ayatollahs smiling at a Guardian Council session, as if all disagreements had been settled. Furthermore, on September 4, 2019, Amoli Larijani published another letter, in which he apologized for his first letter and recanted his claims therein. In his letter of apology he also warned Iran's enemies that they must not think they can spark disputes among the regime senior officials, expressed his loyalty and complete obedience to the Supreme Leader, and stated that he had not criticized the IRGC, the Guardian Council or Iran's state television, because "commenting on the conduct of these bodies is not a possibility."

The following are translated excerpts of Ayatollah Amoli Larijani's first letter, which was published in full by the IRGC-affiliated Tasnim news agency on August 18, 2019,[3] a translation of Guardian Council spokesman Kadkhodaee's tweet with the photo, and translated excerpts of Ayatollah Amoli Larijani's letter of apology. 

Ayatollah Amoli Larijani's Open Letter To Ayatollah Mohammad Yazdi

"For days, a show based on pre-planned scenarios has been waged against me in the country. Because of the public's and the country's range of problems, I did not want to respond to these actions. But I sense that the games played by state television and other organizations have reached a point where [one] must not be silent [any longer], and I will indeed speak at length about them at the appropriate time.

"Unfortunately, recently you [Ayatollah Yazdi] have spoken about matters that, in addition to being groundless lies, are rooted in the same games [as those on television]. You have already spoken a few times on these matters at Guardian Council sessions and in other venues, but I held my tongue due to certain interests. Today, I see that my silence has not prompted you to be [more] cautious; you have in fact added lies and insults to your previous statements.

"[I heard of] statements you made last Sunday at the Basij center of lecturers in the [religious] seminar in Qom. At first, I did not believe that you had said these things, but upon further examination... I realized that you had [indeed] said them... But what is even more odd is that you said... much more nonsense that [was cut] when [your statements] were edited. Mr. Yazdi, how have you reached the point where, in a single paragraph of yours that was quoted, you uttered so many lies and insults?!

Ayatollah Amoli Larijani (source: Tasnim, Iran, August 18, 2019)

"You [Yazdi] said [about me, Amoli Larijani]: 'Such and such a person [i.e. Larijani] says, 'If you [members of the judiciary] do not do this [i.e. stop arresting my associates] I will emigrate to Najaf!' [You then said,] Fine! Go... Even when you were in Qom, you did not do much good, let alone if you go to Najaf. There is an office director [Akbar Tabari] who for a decade administered an important institution [i.e., Amoli's office] and was arrested, and now you complain about why he was arrested? You [Larijani] built a palace and called it a seminary for religious studies! Where did you get the money for this? From an inheritance from your father?'

"First of all, I never said 'if you arrest such and such a person I will move to Najaf.' This is a false rumor that was disseminated, and my office has officially denied it. What compels you to reiterate this lie? I never supported corrupt individuals and criminals, and I never will. If a deputy director of administration [i.e., Tabari] committed a crime or [was involved in] corruption, dealing with his crime is fundamental, and this is the role of the judiciary, and obviously I am not advocating any exceptions.

"Second, you said [about me], insultingly, 'Even when you were in Qom, you did not do much good, let alone if you go to Najaf.' Mr. Yazdi, I am only a simple disciple, and I never claimed to do much good in Qom, or indeed anywhere else. Although Khamenei and other senior jurisprudents often had words [of praise] for me, I do not consider myself worthy... My influence lies in my years of teaching at a religious seminary and at university, and I wrote essays [on jurisprudence]. The effectiveness of these activities is reality-based, and neither rises because I want it to nor falls because of your insults and denigration. But you, what is your contribution to the science of jurisprudence?

"Have you [ever] done anything besides insult, accuse, and disparage senior and great officials, shouting at the top of your lungs? How have you acted towards Ayatollah Shabiri Zanjani [a great Qom religious authority who met with former Iranian president Mohammad Khatami, who is outcast by Khamenei]? He is a cleric known to be knowledgeable, God-fearing, moral, moderate, and honest. Why have you allowed yourself to insult everyone? Have you ever examined how prominent clerics approach your essays and articles?! How seriously they take them? All it takes is a quick look at commentary on Kitab Al-Qazaa [The Book of Law], by the late Saheb Arvah, to clarify the extent of your impact at seminary, how much you learned, and how well you draw religious conclusions. Unfortunately, it appears that you never noticed that the book on which you commented is based on hypotheses. How you destroyed that book! If only you had just translated it, so that the reader would at least know whose statements he was reading.

"One of those present at the meeting [where the anti-Larijani statements were made] said that you also spoke about your behavior towards me at the Guardian Council session... but they forced you to apologize to me! I didn't mean to say a thing in public about your situation in the Guardian Council – but your words force me to speak. Mr. Yazdi, I hereby swear to God that in this matter too you are lying. Every Guardian Council member knows very well that your statements are inaccurate, unproven, and even irrelevant. If they are holding their tongues and saying nothing, it is because they respect you because you are elderly. At the same [Guardian Council] meeting, you started shouting and insulting, as always, without knowing what the subject of conversation was, because you thought that you still were arguing about the previous topic that we had voted on [already] and thought that I was [still] insisting on my point even after a repeat vote. Everyone sat open-mouthed at what you were saying. Ayatollah Modrassi and [Guardian Council spokesman] Dr. Kadkhodaee reminded you that the subject [you were hollering about] had been done with, and that now the discussion was about something else. Apparently, you also did not understand this reminder, and continued to make insulting statements. You even turned to [Guardian Council secretary and Assembly of Experts secretary Ayatollah] Jannati, and said: 'The chairman should run the meeting, and meeting protocol must be observed.' Mr. Yazdi! I was talking in turn at that time, on a new subject. What world were you in?! 

"Indeed, these problems on your part at the Guardian Council [meeting] are not few in number. We are not asking you to understand anything profound in Islamic law, because that is a false expectation. But precision in [choice of] words in Farsi in Majlis decisions and to accurately [verify] that they are compatible with shari'a law is a legitimate expectation. Unfortunately, [you] sometimes lack an understanding of this as well. There's [nothing] to be done [about this]; I am [merely] expressing my sadness and concern before God.

"Third, you said: 'There is an office director [Akbar Tabari] who for a decade administered an important institution, and then was arrested, and then you [i.e. I, Larijani] complained about why he was arrested. In this sentence, you lied twice. First, the man who was arrested [Tabari] was not my office manager at all... he was deputy director of the office and was not a senior judiciary official. Second, I never complained about the arrest... I was only talking about the media atmosphere against me that was created. All this shows that there is a larger project underway behind the scenes, of character assassination against me and perhaps also against others.

"This is the thing. My heart holds secret accusations against a group of deputies, officials' sons, and other figures, and I am apparently paying every day for my insistence on dealing with their [cases as chairman of the judiciary]. But the question is whether those who presume to fight for transparency and against corruption and have for months created a [public] atmosphere [against me] because of the arrest of one man who was not the manager of my office... will act this way also against Sharifi, the former Tehran deputy mayor [under Mohammad Baqr Qalibaf], and against Seif, the financial deputy of the IRGC intelligence [apparatus]. And also whether they will attribute their corruption to [their managers] Qalibaf and [IRGC intelligence director Hossein] Taeb, and others. Woe betide the great injustice and oppression [against me].

"In order to carry out character assassination against me, [the status of] this defendant [Tabari] was inflated on the Internet to an astonishing degree– not in the opposition media, but on [the websites of the] state TV and of the official news agencies such as Mehr... All this was lie after lie. The judicial system is run by high-level judicial system officials [a hint at associates of judiciary chairman Ayatollah Raisi, who are promoting him as Khamenei's successor]. Can no one ask these news agencies and state television whether this man [Tabari] influenced the decisions of any official in the judicial system?...

"Fourth, you said: 'You [Larijani] built a palace and called it a seminary for religious studies! Where did you get the money for this? From an inheritance from your father?' Is there any precedent for speaking this way at religious seminaries? I have already spoken at length on this matter... and you have also surely heard what I said. I even explained [this matter] to you once personally, at your home. But apparently this is your way of persisting in your lies... I will reiterate briefly what I said in order to clarify this matter to the public:

"This seminary is a waqf [religious endowment for social or religious purposes]. My father gave this building to the waqf... and I am only a representative in charge of the waqf, in order to arrange matters connected to the seminary... With regard to the problems in the old building, one contractor suggested renovating it, and found donors who took on the costs of the renovation. I agreed provided that I would not be connected to any of the renovation process and funds in any way. Therefore, Mr. Yazdi, what proof do you have that I built this seminary?

"You also said that I built a palace. Why are you lying? You have never once seen the interior of the building. Why are you spreading lies? If you are referring to the building's exterior, the buildings you use look the same. The building of the research center of the Assembly of Experts secretariat, that you at that time extracted, through trickery, from those in charge and turned into your office in your capacity as deputy chairman, is [built in] the same style as [my] Vali-e Asr seminary. But you never complained about why they built a palace – you energetically moved into it...

"My last point is the fact that also a week ago, in your lecture, you spoke about me and about the quality of my activity, as if you could not finish your day without insulting and accusing and sniping. You said 'Thank God' when [judiciary chairman] Mr. Raisi [appointed by Khamenei in March 2019] assumed office. 'The judiciary's stagnation has ended, and the public again can hope that their cases won't take five years.'

"Everyone wants the judiciary chairman to improve the judicial system. The judiciary is not a personal possession. It is the foundation of the regime, and everyone must help him [Raisi] so that he can announce that there is progress for the judiciary. This is clear. But your jab that the judiciary was stagnated is a lie. Is the apparatus that in 2018 handled 17 million cases stagnated? According to the Central Bureau of Statistics and Information Technology, during the years I was [headed] the judicial system the number of completed cases was greater than [the number of] cases whose handling began [that year], or nearly the same. By this math, was the judicial system stagnated? Mr. Yazdi, I leave you with your conscience – take back your lies...

"During this decade [when I chaired the judiciary], nearly 6,000 judges joined the judicial system; as a result, the number of judges reached over 11,000; prior to this, there were only about 7,000 [sic]. Is this stagnation?!

"This decade saw many developments in the judicial apparatuses. These included the establishment of the Central Bureau of Statistics and Information Technology, which led to notable developments that were fundamental to the land registry, which was led boldly by the organization's then-chairman Mr. Toyserkani. [There were] also [developments in the offices of] the human resources, strategy, and in the supreme court. [Additionally, there were] fundamental developments in the judiciary's oversight system, and many other developments that need not be mentioned here.

"According to the admission of former justice ministry director and current judiciary spokesman [Gholam Hossein Isma'ili], during this decade [as much] equipment was prepared for the courts [as was prepared] in the [entire] preceding century. Is this too stagnation?  

"Mr. Yazdi, the stagnation of the judicial system will not end with slogans nor by means of negative propaganda... Your Honor, what independent research has been done to prove that in the four or five months [since Raisi's appointment as judiciary chairman] the rate at which cases are handled has increased...

"Therefore, take back your convoluted and incorrect statements [about me]. Mr. Yazdi, your main problem is that you think you are the patron of all the seminaries, and you want to determine what they do.

"Unfortunately, you see yourself as having a status allowing you not only to determine [who may] issue fatwas but also to determine for great jurisprudents – of whom you may not even be considered a disciple – what they should do. These actions are at odds with the good atmosphere at the religious seminaries. And a word to the wise is enough."[4]

Guardian Council Spokesman Kadkhodaee's Tweet: "Why Worry About Disputes When There Is Only One Who Sets The Path?" – Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei

On August 28, in an attempt at a show of unity in the regime echelons, Guardian Council spokesman Abbas Kadkhodaee tweeted a photo of Ayatollahs Yazdi and Larijani smiling together, apparently having settled their dispute.

Ayatollah Amoli Larijani (right) with Ayatollah Mohammad Yazdi (source:, August 28, 2019)

He wrote: "Today was a good day for everyone in the Guardian Council. 'Everyone unites so that there will be no dispute,' as the late old man [Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, founder of the Islamic Revolution in Iran] said. We must direct all our shouting at America. Indeed, disputes in any adult society are natural. [But] why worry about disputes when there is only one who sets the path [i.e. Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei][?]"[5], August 28, 2019.

Ayatollah Amoli Larijani's Letter Of Apology

As stated, on September 4, 2019, Ayatolla Amoli Larijani published another letter, in which he apologized for his open letter to Yazdi and recanted the claims he had made in it. He clarified that this letter had been "contrary to interests" and warned the enemies not to imagine they can spark disputes among the regime leadership. Flattering the Supreme Leader he wrote, "We all serve Khamenei. I believe in Khamenei with all my heart and am committed to obeying his directives." He stressed that his letter had not included any remarks against the IRGC, the Guardian Council or Iran's state television, because "commenting on the conduct of these bodies is not a possibility." [6]


[1] Yazdi was responding to a threat voiced by Larijani in a letter to Khamenei, in which he allegedly said that if his associate, Akbar Tabari, who had been arrested on charges of corruption, were not released, he would emigrate to Najaf (Larijani later denied that this letter had been sent). Yazdi also directed a jab at Larijani, asking him where he had obtained the money for building his religious seminary, which he called a "palace." 

[2], August 19, 2019.

[3], August 18, 2019.

[4], August 18, 2019.

[5], August 28, 2019.

[6], September 4, 2019.

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