The Times: President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad of Iran suffered a humiliating and politically damaging setback yesterday when his Interior Minister, Ali Kordan, was impeached by parliament for deception after he confessed to holding a forged law degree from the University of Oxford.
President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad of Iran suffered a humiliating and politically damaging setback yesterday when his Interior Minister, Ali Kordan, was impeached by parliament for deception after he confessed to holding a forged law degree from the University of Oxford.
The President has portrayed himself as a champion against corruption but stood by Mr Kordan as the scandal intensified, insisting that his minister was a “victim” who had devoted 30 years of service to the Islamic Republic and should not be judged on one “piece of torn paper”.
Mr Ahmadinejad sulkily refused to attend the parliamentary session, declaring that the move to impeach was illegal because Mr Kordan had committed no wrongdoing during his turbulent three months in office.
But the parliamentarians behind the motion countered that an interior minister should be seen to be incorruptible: his powerful post oversees domestic security as well as organising vital presidential elections to be held next June.
“A person who has to be entrusted with the country’s security has mocked parliament’s trust,” one deputy, Ebrahim Nekuman, said in a speech to the assembly.
Mr Kordan, like the President a former Revolutionary Guards officer, was defeated by a large majority: of the 247 deputies present in the 290-seat assembly, 188 voted against Mr Kordan, including many hard-liners. Only 45 voted in his favour while 14 abstained.
Mr Kordan’s unseemly sacking pushes the President dangerously close to having to submit his whole Cabinet to a review by parliament, which is led by Ali Larijani, the parliamentary Speaker, who is one of Mr Ahmadinejad’s key political rivals within the fractious conservative camp.
Under Iran’s constitution, the Cabinet must be resubmitted for approval if more than half of the 21 ministers are replaced. Mr Ahmadinejad has already replaced nine, often after quarrelling with them.
Mr Kordan’s disgrace will deal a body blow to Mr Ahmadinejad’s hopes of winning a second four-year term but will not prove mortal, analysts said. Deputies have accused him of naivety for having been duped by the lies of his disgraced Interior Minister.
But the President faces more serious challenges, in particular over his expansionary economic policies, which are blamed for rampant inflation that now stands at nearly 30 per cent. Plunging oil prices also mean that it will be difficult for Mr Ahmadinejad to keep handing out cheap loans to the poor who helped him to win power in the last elections.
Meanwhile, Mr Ahmadinejad’s failure to show up at several recent public events triggered rumours that he was too ill to run for president again, forcing aides to admit that he sometimes suffers from strain and exhaustion.
Despite its far-reaching political ramifications, the Kordan row descended into farce last week, with stormy scenes in parliament. Several deputies complained furiously that a senior presidential aide, Mohammad Abassi, had offered them $5,000 (£3,100) – ostensibly to benefit mosques in their districts – if they voted against impeaching Mr Kordan. The deputies refused, with one even slapping Mr Abassi’s face in a parliamentary corridor. Two days later the aide was sacked by President Ahmadinejad.
The Kordan saga began in August when parliament – which vets Cabinet ministers proposed by the President – met to vote on his confirmation. When several deputies questioned Mr Kordan’s eligibility, he brandished a graduation certificate purporting that he had been awarded an “honorary doctorate of law” by Oxford. He was eventually approved by a relatively slim margin of about 160 of the 269 deputies present.
He did little to allay suspicions of his academic record by persistently referring to one of Britain’s two most prestigious seats of learning as “the London Oxford University”. Within days Iranian reporters were following up claims by some deputies that the degree was bogus. Mr Kordan promptly released a copy of the certificate to quell such speculation.
Alef, an Iranian news website associated with one of Mr Ahmadinejad’s critics, delightedly pointed out several spelling and grammatical errors in the document. The word entitle, for instance, appeared as “intitle”. Alef passed the certificate to Oxford, which disavowed it. The Iranian Government then blocked access to Alef. Mr Kordan soon became a laughing stock.
Gleeful Iranian websites circulated a fake resignation letter by the supposedly contrite minister that brimmed with typographical errors and crossings-out. One deputy claimed that Mr Kordan, who worked as a university lecturer, had even regaled students with imaginary tales about his days amid Oxford’s dreaming spires and hallowed cloisters.
Mr Kordan, who stubbornly refused numerous calls to resign instead of facing impeachment, told parliament on Monday that he would never have presented the degree if he had known it was a fake. He claimed that it was issued for his “managerial and executive experience” and for a thesis he had submitted to the University of Oxford through a person who had opened an affiliate office in Tehran.
Mr Kordan insisted that he received the degree in good faith and doubted it only when deputies questioned its authenticity. “To my utter disbelief, the university did not confirm [the degree] when my representative went there”, he maintained.
He claimed that he had filed a complaint against the mysterious intermediary who purportedly represented Oxford in Tehran. But Mr Kordan said that he was unable to find the man and has declined to name him.
Faking the grade
— Lucius Banba, a Malawian musician-turned-MP, lost his seat in 2006 and was given 21 months hard labour for faking his qualifications
— In 2005 a former taxi driver with no medical qualifications was revealed to have used fake qualifications from Harvard and Oxford to set himself up as a leading clinician. Barain Baluchi had even given “expert” testimony in British courts
— Marilee Jones resigned as Dean of Admissions at Massachusetts Institute of Technology last year after confessing that she didn’t have the undergraduate or graduate degrees that gained her her first job at the university 28 year earlier
Source: Times archives