Iran’s Supreme Audit Court (SAC), the supervisory arm of the Iranian Parliament, appointed Mehrdad Bazrpash as its new head in late July. SAC, which oversees government spending, is a weak institution and Parliament has played a minimal role in supervising its internal workings. However, despite SAC’s daunting challenges and deficiencies, Bazrpash has promised to fix Iran’s financial problems.
Bazrpash blames President Hassan Rouhani for Iran’s economic woes and for pushing the country toward a recession. Bazrpash believes the impact of US sanctions have been insignificant when compared to the economic woes caused by Rouhani’s mismanagement.
Months before Bazrpash’s appointment, SAC discovered a gap in Iran’s financial records as $4.8 billion was missing from the state budget. SAC highlighted that Rouhani had allocated $31.4 billion to import goods in 2018, however, only $26.6 billion of imported goods were accounted for.
Rouhani’s officials have insisted that no money is unaccounted for, but SAC’s annual report issued in April and submitted to Rouhani calls for a review of his financial policies. Bazrpash is close to Iran’s former hardline President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. His appointment suggests a compromise between the pro-Ahmadinejad factions in Parliament and the Speaker of the Parliament Mohammad Bagher Qalibaf. Ahmadinejad and Qalibaf both face corruption charges. It is believed that Ahmadinejad mentored Bazrpash, and Qalibaf has called on him to take on a more active role as SAC’s head.
Bazrpash has claimed that he will fight corruption even though he faces some serious corruption charges himself. He has dismissed the charges, arguing that they are political attacks against him. However, records indicate that he may possess fake degrees, lied on his resume, lacks adequate qualifications, paid himself an inflated salary, and illegally sold land. In addition, it is believed that he received a free 10-storey building as a favor when he worked at Iran’s auto manufacturing company SAIPA.
Bazrpash was previously dismissed from government posts on charges of false documentation, illegally seizing land, and receiving master’s and PhD degrees by pressuring university chancellors. The Organization for Transparency and Justice Watch in Iran questions his qualifications.
To deflect attention from these charges, Bazrpash has waged an anti-Rouhani campaign.
Bazrpash says Rouhani secretly handed out 260,000 billion tomans to special interest groups in the form of subsidies. Some of Rouhani’s officials are believed to receive 53 million tomans per month in the form of salaries, which is 10 times greater than the average government salary.
Bazrpash has accused the Rouhani government of increasing unemployment and underemployment levels in Iran, and breaking the Guinness World Record for inefficiency. He has promised to protect workers, and those who are retired. In addition, he has vowed to reverse Iran’s scientific, artistic, and educational decline under Rouhani.
By heading SAC, there is a possibility that Bazrpash could assume powerful positions in the future including the presidency. He is no stranger to election campaigns. At SAIPA, he bankrolled Ahmadinejad’s presidential re-election campaign in 2009.
Clearly, Bazrpash is raising his public profile before Iran’s presidential race next year by insisting that the country cannot run as it did in the old days, and that it needs managerial change. He has said that the inflation rate and liquidity levels must be controlled. In the past year in Iran, the price of fruits increased by 36 percent, rice by 27 percent, fresh vegetables by 54 percent, apples by 70 percent, and tomatoes by 127 percent.
Some critics say that Bazrpash is only 39 years old, and jumps from one job to the next. Previously, he managed the hardline Vatan-e Emrooz newspaper, and before this, served as a deputy at the Cooperative Organization of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC). He has also worked for the IRGC Khatam al Anbiya, a construction and investment conglomerate, but boasts having research experience at Iran’s prestigious Sharif University.
In 2012, Bazrpash won a seat in Parliament , and received enough parliamentary votes to become the presiding parliamentary board’s secretary, and later on a member of the special commission supervising Iran’s nuclear deal. He called Rouhani’s nuclear deal with world powers a “nuclear holocaust.”
In 2016, Bazrpash lost a bid for re-election. His latest appointment to SAC suggests that he still enjoys support from powerful groups inside Iran, even though his past could serve as an obstacle for him to run in Iran’s presidential race.