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Iran's Ayatollah Khamenei loves caviar and vulgar jokes, defector claims

A defector from the private guard of Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, Iran's Supreme Leader, has given the first comprehensive account of the private life of the secretive figure who has led the country for 20 years.

By Damien McElroy and Ahmad Vahdat

telegraph.co.uk

December 31, 2009

A catalogue of the private opulence and eccentric tastes of 70-year-old Ayatollah Khamenei and his family has been compiled by Iran's opposition Green Movement from the accounts of the defector, who is said to be in hiding in France.

Among his claims are that Ayatollah Khamenei has a voracious appetite for trout and caviar; is an avid hoarder of collectables from bejewelled pipes to fine horses; and that he suffers regular bouts of depression which are treated in part by audiences with a mid-ranking mullah who tells vulgar jokes.

Claims from three intelligence officials, who have also fled Iran, have additionally documented the Khamenei family's wide-reaching business connections, including interests in European manufacturers, African mobile phone companies and international commodities markets.

But the glimpse at the imperial lifestyle of an otherwise austere theologan is groundbreaking. Ayatollah Khamenei is said to be a keen collector with a prized assembly of antique walking sticks said to number 170. The Supreme Leader was once a fanatical equestrian enthusiast and his extensive stables reportedly include more than 100 of the country's leading horses. His cloaks are said to be woven from hair of specially bred camels.

Ayatollah Khamenei is claimed to have accumulated a sprawling private court that stretches across six palaces, including Niavaran, the former resident of the Shah in Tehran. Two of the palaces - Niavaran and Vakilabad - are equipped with deep, reinforced concrete nuclear bunkers said to be capable of withstanding nuclear attack. A fully functioning hospital is overseen by a former health minister.

The accounts provide new information that links Ayatollah Khamenei to the brutal assault on protestors following the presidential elections in June.

The man alleged to have carrying out interrogations of prisoners at the notorious Kahrizak detention centre, where at least three people were tortured to death, is a key part of the inner circle. Hossain Taeb is said to have run an extensive surveillance operation for the personal use of Ayatollah Khamenei for almost 15 years. Each evening the leader is said to listen to recordings of senior officials and colleague talking about him in a compilation that normally lasts 20 minutes.

Mojtaba Khamenei, the leader's second son, has meanwhile emerged as an influential figure with extensive business interests who has played a prominent role in organising the Basij militia that has meted out violence against protesters.

Ayatollah Khamenei has since 1989 been the Islamic Republic's supreme guide under the Shia Muslim doctrine of Velāyat-e faqih, which dictates that a designated cleric has the final say in state matters. His position has been challenged by the protest movement, which sprung up after leading presidential challengers Mir-Hossein Mousavi and Mehdi Karroubi decried the landslide re-election of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in June's election as rigged.

The bodyguard was a member of a 200-strong permanent personal protection team who provide the Supreme Leader's primary security. He is currently staying at a safe house in France organised by the Green Movement's exiled leader, Mohsen Makhmalbaf, a film director. The credibility of his account is enhanced by his denial of widespread rumours in Iran the Ayatollah has used opium.

Mr Makmalbaf claimed the Green Movement had gathered information about the Khamenei family's investments abroad. "If the Western governments are serious enough in putting pressure on the regime by applying economic sanctions, then they should follow these leads and find these bank accounts and confiscate their deposits to be returned to the Iranian people at a later time," he said.

Iran's embassy in London refused to comment on the allegations. "I have no comment on those things," a spokesman said.

URL: Iran's Ayatollah Khamenei loves caviar and vulgar jokes, defector claims

Senior Cleric Denounces Iranian Militia for Crackdown

By NAZILA FATHI

December 1, 2009

TORONTO — Iran’s most senior cleric denounced the role of the volunteer militia force known as the Basij in the crackdown against protesters, saying the force’s actions were against religion and “in the path of Satan.”

The cleric, Grand Ayatollah Hossein Ali Montazeri, condemned the force in a statement posted on an opposition Web site, mowjcamp.com, decreeing that “the assailants have acted against religion and must pay blood money” to those who were wounded or to their families.

It was the harshest criticism of the militia to date by the ayatollah, who has sided with the opposition leaders. The Basij militia has played an instrumental role in the crackdown; the opposition has said that at least 73 people have been killed since the post-election protests began in June.

The opposition is planning another demonstration on Dec. 7, known as Student Day. Dozens of student leaders have already been arrested.

The ayatollah’s statement on Monday, and another one last week issued by Mir Hussein Moussavi, the opposition leader, on the anniversary of the founding of the force, suggest a new effort by the opposition to attract members of the force who have been involved in the repression.

“Why do you beat people?” Ayatollah Montazeri asked in the statement. “Because they do not accept what you say? Basij was founded to act within the path of God, not Satan. Isn’t it unfortunate to go to hell for the benefits of others?”

Analysts said Ayatollah Montazeri’s statement was probably aimed at more religious members of the force who have been involved in the crackdown out of religious devotion.

“There are lots of opportunists within the force, but there are also religious members who act based on their ideological devotions,” said Fatemeh Haghighatjoo, a former member of Parliament who is currently a visiting scholar at the University of Massachusetts.

“Ayatollah Montazeri is addressing the religious members in their own language,” she said. “It will certainly have an effect on them.”

Mr. Moussavi’s statement last week, also posted on mowjcamp, addressed reports that the government had financially rewarded members of the Basij for participating in the crackdown.

“Basij was not supposed to become a force on the government’s payroll and receive money in return for arresting people,” he wrote.


Copyright 2009 The New York Times Company

URL: http://www.nytimes.com/2009/12/01/world/middleeast/01tehran.html?_r=1&ref=world

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