Two years ago it would have been impossible to even imagine that Mohammad Ali Najafi would go to the police and confess to his wife’s murder.
Najafi was a politician with a long record of service in the Islamic Republic, recognized as an educated, intelligent, capable man, who was in no way controversial. Following the end of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's presidency in 2013, reformists regarded Najafi as a figure who was bound to increase their social reputation, unaware that these bets on Najafi would not come to fruition.
Now, in just one year, Mohammad Ali Najafi has managed to cross entirely from a man with a solid reputation — although questions begin to arise about his personal life about two years ago — to a man who will be remembered for scandals, controversy and murder.
The Golden Years
Mohammad Ali Najafi nearly holds the record for the number of high-ranking jobs he has had in government since the 1979 Islamic Revolution, coming only second to Bijan Namdar Zangeneh, the current Minister of Petroleum. His served 11 years as a minister in five cabinets, close to four years as vice president — three years and three months as the head of the Planning and Budget Organization during the first term of President Mohammad Khatami and close to six months during President Rouhani’s first term — six years as a member of Tehran City Council, four years as an economic advisor to the president and a few months as acting Minister of Science.
Any other Iranian statesman with such a record would have been accused of financial and moral corruption, and of abusing his government positions. But not Najafi. Although many of his veteran colleagues had faced accusations of such crimes from their political rivals, before early 2018, even Najafi's opponents never accused him of corruption.
In August 2013, newly-elected President Hassan Rouhani nominated Najafi to be his Minister of the Education. Parliament failed to approve the nomination, but not because of corruption allegations. Instead, he was rejected because, as a member of Tehran City Council he had shown support for the “Sedition” — meaning the reformists and the protests during the disputed 2009 presidential election and its aftermath.
Almost all teachers’ associations supported his nomination to the Ministry of Education but, in the end, Najafi failed to win the parliament’s vote of confidence. Rouhani then sent him to the Cultural Heritage and Tourism Organization to restore some order to a chaotic organization that had become a playground for President Ahmadinejad and his cronies. Cultural heritage activists were hoping that Najafi would put things in order but he stayed for only a few months, giving the excuse of heart problems for his resignation. Even then there were whispers that “family issues” had forced him to resign, not heart problems as he had claimed. But nobody imagined that his “family problems” would lead to the outcome it eventually did.
Then, as the president’s advisor, Najafi found a safe position that allowed him to be politically active but from behind the scenes. But this sanctuary did not last beyond August 2017. After the decisive victory of reformists in municipal elections on May 19, 2017, Mohammad Ali Najafi’s name as a candidate for Tehran mayor was bandied about, and on August 27 of that year he was elected as the mayor of the Iranian capital.
Being a mayor appears to be a more humble position than being a cabinet minister or a vice president but it was a challenge — when Najafi took over the reins at Tehran Municipality, it was in a very bad political and financial shape.
The Beginning of Najafi’s Downfall
It was easy to anticipate serious crises for the municipality, but those who had faith in Najafi were hopeful he was experienced and intelligent enough to at least prevent the crises from getting worse. But Najafi never succeeded in doing this. His achievements were limited to a few revelations of corruption and the establishment of a half-hearted system for transparency in the municipality. He did not last beyond his seventh month as mayor. On April 10, 2018, he again used a medical excuse to resign as mayor, although this time his excuse was not his heart but his prostate.
But this time there were no safe corners for Najafi to take sanctuary. And his demise started right then and there.
Nobody believed the prostate excuse. Some speculated that he had escaped because of political pressures and the tough demands of a broken-down city management system. But, again, there were whispers about “family issues.”
Finally, in the autumn of 2018, the curtain rose on the rumored “family issues” and it turned out that he had been having an affair with a young woman named Mitra Ostad who, in an interview with a news website in October 2018, announced that she and Mohammad Ali Najafi were legally and officially married.
Under the laws of the Islamic Republic, polygamy is legal but, in the eyes of the secular society, this was a full-fledged scandal for somebody who had enjoyed a reputation for moral and financial rectitude. The revelation struck a deadly blow to Najafi’s reputation and credibility. His complete disgrace came next.
On Tuesday, May 28, Najafi murdered Mitra Ostad, shooting her five times.
In his confession, as reported by the newspaper Hamshahri, Najafi said Mitra Ostad “had come to ruin my life. She constantly threatened to reveal my secrets and ruin my life. She even wanted to carry out her threats in an interview.”
Now Najafi’s “family issues” have been resolved, albeit in tragedy. There are still details that will likely emerge in the coming days but the tragedy has of course already unfolded. Even if parts of were not entirely unexpected, most would not have been able to predict the death of this young woman and one of the reformist’s brightest stars being charged with murder.
Moral corruption, polygamy and secret lives are not uncommon in the Islamic Republic but Najafi’s story — that of an intelligent, educated and capable man with a good, honorable reputation who self-destructed and destroyed others — is certainly exceptional. For many people, the story is engrossing even as it is profoundly shocking, perhaps one of the most compelling tales of contemporary Iranian political history.
Former Tehran Mayor Kills Wife, Shocking the Nation, May 29, 2019