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Thursday, July 23, 1998 Published at 11:41 GMT 12:41 UK

World: Middle East

Tehran mayor jailed for five years

Mayor Karbaschi: escaped a flogging

An Iranian court has sentenced the Mayor of Tehran, Gholam Hossein-Karbaschi, to five years in prison.

BBC Correspondent Jim Muir says the verdict could divide Iranians.
He was convicted of corruption in a case that has come to symbolise the tense power struggle between hard-liners and moderates.

Mr Karbaschi, widely regarded as a moderate, was also banned from holding public office for 20 years and sentenced to 60 lashes.

But the court said the flogging would be suspended because of his social standing.

He was fined 1 billion rials ($ 333,000) and ordered to repay to public coffers 17.6 billion rials (about $6m) in illegal "loans" he issued to various people or institutions.

[ image: President Khatami: moderate]
President Khatami: moderate
Our Middle East correspondent says the sentence is relatively light as Mr Karbaschi could have been jailed for life.

The mayor was accused of public funds, in part to finance the election campaign of the reformist Iranian President Mohammad Khatami last year.

He was not present when the judge found him guilty of embezzlement, squandering state property and mismanagement. Mr Karbaschi was acquitted on a separate charge of bribery.

Mr Karbaschi, who has been praised for greatly improving the quality of life in the capital, insists that the charges are politically motivated.

BBC Correspondent Jim Muir reports on a trial that has focused attention on Iran's judiciary.
In sometimes emotional outbursts during the trial sessions, he denied any wrongdoing while admitting he may have bent the rules in the interest of getting things done.

Mr Karbaschi complained that confessions had been extracted from some of his aides by torture. One of them was silenced by the judge when he said he had been held for a long period in solitary confinement.

Judge and jury

Our correspondent says irrespective of the legalities of this case, few Iranians see it as a purely judicial affair.

[ image: Mayor Karbaschi: could become a martyr of the reformist cause]
Mayor Karbaschi: could become a martyr of the reformist cause
Mr Karbaschi is a powerful reformist figure who played a major role in the landslide election victory of President Khatami, and the trial is seen as a key element in the struggle between the country's conservative judiciary and moderate leader.

Many have also remarked that the public proceedings turned into something of a trial of the judiciary itself.

The case proceedings, broadcast in full on Iranian television and radio, have been followed by millions of people.

BBC Correspondent Lyse Doucet reports on the political background to the trial.
Under the current Iranian system, the judge acts as both prosecutor and jury.

Our correspondent says the strength of the popular anger against the verdict and how it might be expressed remains to be seen.

The mayor's arrest in April, threatened to trigger angry demonstrations. But President Khatami himself is likely to urge calm and the appeals procedures may raise hopes of a reversal.

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