Iran Detains Rouhani's Brother Amid Spat With Hardliners

  • Sibling is held for ‘financial issues,’ state-run news reports
  • Tasnim reports later that Fereydoun was released on bail

Hossein Fereydoun.

Photographer: Atta Kenare/AFP via Getty Images

The brother of Iranian President Hassan Rouhani has been detained over unspecified “financial issues,” the judiciary said, reflecting growing tensions between the president and his hardline political opponents. He was later reportedly released on bail.

Judiciary spokesman Gholamhossein Mohseni-Ejei confirmed the custody of Hossein Fereydoun in comments to the state-run Tasnim news agency. He didn’t give a reason for the arrest of a brother who assisted Rouhani during nuclear talks that led to Iran’s 2015 agreement with world powers.

Fereydoun appeared on Monday at the prosecutor’s office but left shortly after in an ambulance after feeling ill, according to the news agency. Later it said he had been freed with bail set at the equivalent of $15.3 million. There was no immediate confirmation from officials. 

Some of Rouhani’s political opponents have condemned the 2015 deal, which traded sanctions relief for the curbing of Iran’s nuclear program. They say the president and his team were too lenient and that the agreement has failed to reap promised economic benefits. The judiciary, which operates independently from Rouhani’s government, is run by more hardline politicians.

Fereydoun, who’s been referred to in Iran as Rouhani’s “eyes and ears,” had already been the target of attacks by some conservatives. They alleged he played a role in a scandal that emerged a year ago over high executive wages by appointing one of the paid directors. Accusations of financial impropriety against him were also brought up by Rouhani’s rivals during the presidential election in May. He has denied wrongdoing.

‘Weak Point’

This is an attempt by Rouhani’s opponents to portray “corruption as a weak point of his administration to weaken him both in the eyes of the international community and the Iranian population,” said Aniseh Bassiri Tabrizi, a research fellow at the Royal United Services Institute in London.

Rouhani, a politically moderate cleric, was re-elected on his platform of easing Iran’s isolation and welcoming foreign investment. His inauguration is planned for Aug. 5 and afterward he will nominate cabinet appointments.

The timing of the arrest may be aimed at “influencing the nomination of certain people in key positions” or forcing concessions from Rouhani, Bassiri Tabrizi said.

Also Sunday, the judiciary disclosed that a U.S citizen was sentenced to 10 years in jail for allegedly “infiltrating” the country. The sentence can be appealed, it said.

The dual Chinese-American national was identified as Xiyue Wang, a 37-year-old history researcher, according to Mizan Online, a website affiliated with Iran’s judiciary. His detention, which reportedly took place in August last year, wasn’t previously known. Wang is a graduate student in history at Princeton University in New Jersey.

In a statement issued on Sunday, the university said Wang was arrested while carrying out research linked to his doctorate dissertation on the Qajar dynasty. Princeton is working with his family and the U.S. government to secure Wang’s release, it said.

Two Years

Iran marked the two-year anniversary of the nuclear deal on July 14. While remaining U.S. sanctions have slowed economic gains promised by the accord, signs that international interest in Iran is growing have disturbed some hardliners, who foresee their power waning.

A $1 billion natural gas bet by Total SA signed earlier this month, marked the first investment in Iran by an international energy company since the nuclear accord. The Total deal has been criticized in some corners of the conservative media for being detrimental to the Islamic Republic; moderate politicians close to Rouhani hailed it as proof of Iran’s progress post-sanctions.

The perception that the Rouhani administration is starting to reap benefits from the nuclear agreement is a “cause of concern for hardliners in terms of loosing ground economically,” said Bassiri Tabrizi.

Under Rouhani’s predecessor, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, ever tighter sanctions drove away foreign investors and enlarged the economic role of state-affiliated organizations controlled by conservatives or the security establishment.

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