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Thursday, July 23, 1998 Published at 08:23 GMT 09:23 UK


World: Middle East

The mayor's evidence

A young girl's letter reduced Karbaschi to tears

At the final session of his trial on corruption charges almost two weeks ago, the Mayor of Tehran, Gholam-Hossein Karbaschi, gave an emotional defence.

The marathon trial - widely seen as a battle between reformers and the conservative judiciary - was broadcast on Iranian radio and television, attracting an audience of millions.

Prisoner of the Shah

"I entered the seminary when I was 11 and I was arrested by the Shah's regime when I was 14," Karbaschi told the judge.

"Until 1976, I spent three years in jail, 17 months of which was in solitary confinement, with a visit ban and with no access to mail or to a telephone," he added.

Karbaschi said that during his years in the Shah's jails his father was in exile in Zahedan, and on one of the rare occasions when he was allowed a visit by relatives he was blindfolded and held in a cage in a prison yard.

"My brother and sister visited me in that situation.

"Throughout that period I did not cry at all, but I cried all the 11 nights which I spent in the Islamic Republic's prison," Karbaschi told the court.

'No improper payments'

The mayor acknowledged that he had spent municipal funds on the election campaign of moderate President Mohammad Khatami last year, but denied any wrongdoing.

He said the funds were aimed at revitalising Iranian society, and cited letters from high-ranking government officials testifying that they had underwritten the loans, which had been fully paid off.

Karbaschi rebuffed the prosecution's embezzlement charges by pointing to the contribution his administration had made toward public welfare.

Karbaschi, who had been close to the Islamic Republic's late founder Ayatollah Khomeini, also stressed his own Islamic credentials.

"I believe that Islam is the religion of life, activity and work, and a framework for us all to serve the people", he said, adding that he had spent eight-and-a-half years working 15 hours daily.

Karbaschi said his administration had granted over 2,000 discounts to families of war dead and war veterans, to the needy and to educational and cultural centres.

He added that 100 mosques had been built by Tehran municipality during his tenure.

Support for mayor's case

Karbaschi read out transcripts from a cabinet session held after his detention, when the justice minister and economy minister had voiced dismay at the embezzlement charges against him.

Referring to the support he had received from the public during the trial, Karbaschi tearfully read out a letter from a girl in Neyshabur who had donated all her savings - two gold coins - to help him.

"Things like that raise my morale, realizing what kind of people we are serving", he told the court.

He said he could not bring himself to accept the gift.

The judge, Gholam-Hussain Mohseni Ejei, said he hoped to announce the verdict seven to 10 days after the defendant or his lawyers had submitted their final documents.

BBC Monitoring (http://www.monitor.bbc.co.uk), based in Caversham in southern England, selects and translates information from radio, television, press, news agencies and the Internet from 150 countries in more than 70 languages.



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