Chief justice Ebrahim Raisi’s is standing for election as president on a “fighting corruption” ticket. For months now, powerful media outlets close to the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps and the office of the Supreme Leader have been portraying Raisi as a trailblazer against nepotism and embezzlement within the rank and file. The reality, though, is a little different.
Combatant or Participant?
Ebrahim Raisi has held an array of judicial positions since 1981, when he was 20 years old. He previously served as the judiciary’s first deputy for 10 years, then worked for another 10 as head of the General Inspection Office: an organization established in accordance with Article 174 of the Constitution to thwart corruption in the Islamic Republic’s administrative structures.
Rather than a hero, Raisi is one of the core architects of the Islamic Republic’s inefficiency in the internal fight against official sleaze. His election campaign is focusing on the recent grand corruption case involving ex-judiciary deputy Akbar Tabari, who was jailed for 31 years last September for running a bribery network, and Sadegh Amoli Larijani, the former head of the judiciary. This, though, is more a matter of political score-settling than a sign of determination.
The case against Akbar Tabari is one of several manifestations of a proxy war taking place between two key judicial factions close to the Supreme Leader. While Tabari’s trial was unfolding in summer 2019, a longer-standing war of words was going on between Sadegh Amoli Larijani and high-ranking cleric Ayatollah Yazdi – himself another former chief justice.
Naturally, Amoli Larijani had not been corrupted overnight. Nor had the corruption in the judiciary’s corridors of power been revealed overnight. Nor had Ebrahim Raisi been passive in this process himself. He was and remains a key figurehead in a branch of power in Iran that has been shown to be rotten to the core.
Indeed, Raisi himself is suspected of complicity and collaboration in some of what has gone on. During his first 20 years in office, why at no time did he react to the culture of “brown envelopes” that was growing up around him? And if he is a staunch fighter of corruption, why has he never said anything publicly about the scandal that erupted during Mohammad Bagher Ghalibaf’s tenure as mayor of Tehran?
Headline-Grabbing Court Cases are Just the Beginning
Even had Raisi arrived fresh on the political scene three years ago, without this murky past, evidence of a plan to “fight corruption” would still be required of him if he tried to campaign on this basis. As yet, he has articulated no such thing.
Contrary to the claim of Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei, corruption is rampant in Iran and not confined to a single case or sector. Research by the organization Transparency and Justice Watch, which has an official presence in Iran, has given the country a “perceived corruption index” ranking of 13 out of 15, where zero means no-one believes corruption occurs and 15 implies it is endemic. Meanwhile, Transparency International ranked Iran 149th out of 180 countries for corruption perception in 2020, where 180 is the highest: a three-point increase since 2012.
Whether the leaders of the Islamic Republic like it or not, corruption in Iran is an established phenomenon that will require a comprehensive plan – and many years of rigorous root-and-branch work – to neutralize.
What is Raisi's Plan to Fight Corruption?
So far, Ebrahim Raisi and his supporters have not presented any actual plan as to how he will “fight corruption”. Throughout the last three years, delicately described in official literature as the "period of the change in the judiciary," he has not put forward any plan of action either, and no ideas on the matter have been submitted by the judiciary to parliament.
Even the Document for Judicial Change, a 20,000-word roadmap unveiled less than six months ago, does not contain a chapter addressing corruption. It mentions the word “corruption” just six times, “conflict of interest” four times and “transparency” 19 times, indicating the authors were at least aware of the problem, but drew a blank on how to deal with it.
Amongst other things, corruption in Iran is worsened by the wider state of the economy. Raisi also has no economic plan, and did not put one forward during the last presidential campaign period either. Iranians have no idea, for example, how he would reform pricing structures in the country, or the use of questionable intermediaries and informal markets, or whether the state would continue to offer the highly problematic 4,200-toman preferential rate for dollars, which has led to profiteers abusing the market ever since its introduction.
Without a clear manifesto from Raisi highlighting how he aims to achieve his aims, Iranians can have no confidence in his fresh proclamations about “fighting corruption”. His vague and questionable record, however, is public knowledge, as is the fact that he presided over an emerging culture of judicial corruption for decades, without taking any decisive action to defuse it. With this campaign pledge, Raisi is wearing clothes that do not fit him.