Iran’s current Speaker of Parliament and ex-Mayor of Tehran travelled to Turkey in the past to support Ghasem Soleimani and the IRGC’s Quds Force, a hardline senior cleric has revealed.
Mehdi Taeb, head of the pro-IRGC propaganda outfit the Ammar Headquarters and brother of Hossein Taeb, who oversees the IRGC’s Intelligence Organization, made the remarks in a leaked audio file published by Iran International. It marks the first time that an Iranian government official has claimed Ghalibad went to Turkey specifically on behalf of the IRGC.
The discussion came in the context of a recent all-out political scandal in Iran involving a shopping trip in Turkey made by Ghalibaf, whose career has been marred by financial corruptino scandals, and his family.
In the midst of a deepening cost of living crisis in Iran, Ghalibaf and his family had been pictured at Imam Khomeini Airport returning from a lavish shopping trip in Istanbul. With them were a reported 20 pieces of luggage, including baby clothes, a bed and a pram for Ghalibaf’s as-yet unborn grandchild.
The story led to uproar in Iran and calls for the already-embattled politician to resign when it became public knowledge in April. Reports later appeared in Iranian media claiming that on the same trip, Ghalibaf’s family had also bought two apartments in Istanbul worth $1.6 million. Ghalibaf has denied this and said he will sue whoever suggested it.
In the new recording shared with Iran International, Mehdi Taeb can be heard saying that it was Meysam Nili, the brother of President Ebrahim Raisi’s son-in-law, who disclosed details of the scandalous shopping trip to the press. He adds that he is not sure if the Ministry of Intelligence also played a role in the affair.
Then, pressed by a reporter on Ghalibaf’s previous trips to Turkey, Taeb states: “Ghalibaf had paid other visits to Turkey before. These were made in order to support Ghasem Soleimani and the Quds Force.”
Ghalibaf and the late Quds Force commander were known to have been close during the former’s tenure as Mayor, during which time the IRGC’s commercial arm won a number of questionable building contracts from Tehran Municipality. But this is the first time it has been suggested that Ghalibaf travelled abroad at the behest of the IRGC.
In the clip, Taeb also defends Ghalibaf’s record as Speaker – effectively the head of the legislature, and a much more important and powerful role in Iran than it tends to be in Western countries – and backs his bid for a second term.
He claims that a conspiracy of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad supporters, religious elements and “reformists” were planning to try to force him out at the election in mid-May, but also that Ali Khamenei himself had written a letter of recommendation for Ghalibaf “by his own hand”.
Taeb’s charge against a person close to Ebrahim Raisi gives weight to suspicions about an emerging division between Tehran’s principalists elements. Earlier Mahmoud Razavi, an advisor to Ghalibaf, had accused an “intelligence agency” of disclosing the family visit to Turkey.