By Golnaz Esfandiari, RFE/RL
Iranian president Mahmud Ahmadinejad's (left) and his chief of staff Esfandiar Rahim Mashaei
The Iranian president's right-hand man, Esfandiar Rahim Mashaei, is reportedly back in Tehran amid speculation concerning his whereabouts.
While last week U.S. media were focusing their attention on the visit of Iran’s President Mahmud Ahmadinejad to the United Nations and his usual controversial comments, the attention of some Iranian media and observers was turned toward Mashaei.
Mashaei, described by Ahmadinejad’s opponents as a key member of the so-called "deviant current" that is allegedly trying to undermine the role of the clergy, was in New York with the Iranian president.
Inside Iran there have been calls for his arrest and his trip to New York was described by some as an attempt by Ahmadinejad to prevent that from happening.
Iranian Protestors manage to talk to Esfandiar Rahim Mashaei in New York - Sep 23, 2011
see vidoe on youtube
On September 27, when Ahmadinejad returned to Tehran, his chief of staff and closest aide was nowhere to be seen.
The semi-official Mehr news agency reported that Mashaei had not been sighted at the welcome ceremony for Ahmadinejad at Mehrabad airport.
Speculation and rumors abounded that Mashaei had stayed in the United States, apparently in an attempt to escape the political heat in Tehran.
One website even claimed that the 51-year-old chief of staff had applied for a 6-month U.S. visa.
Eventually, on September 29, “Asriran” reported that Mashaei had been seen in the Iranian capital.
“An informed source who was present at the welcome ceremony for the president told our reporter that Mashaei was in the plane that carried the president. He said he saw Mashaei getting out of the plane at Mehrabad,” the website said, adding that Mashaei had tried to stay away from cameras in New York.
“Asriran” said the reason behind what it described as “secrecy games” was unclear.
The report added that some believe that people in the government are trying to divert attention from issues such as the recent massive bank fraud case.
The rumors about Mashaei, whose name has surfaced in relation to the $2.6 billion dollar embezzlement scandal, appear to be part of a negative campaign launched by Ahmadinejad’s opponents against the Iranian president and his close circle.
The case, described as the biggest embezzlement in Iran’s history, has added to the pressure on Ahmadinejad, who has become isolated as the result of a power struggle with Iran’s supreme leader and his allies.
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