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Thursday, July 23, 1998 Published at 15:00 GMT 16:00 UK

World: Middle East

Who is the mayor of Tehran?

Karbaschi received a five-year sentence for corruption

The BBC's Iranian Affairs Correspondent, Sadeq Saba, reports:

Gholam-Hossein Karbaschi is seen as one of the most capable officials in the Islamic Republic, and a man who has changed the face of Tehran during the past eight years.

He played an instrumental role in the landslide election victory of Iran's moderate President Khatami last year. The conservatives have never forgiven him for his role in their humiliating defeat.

Controversial style

His modernist and moderate views, as well as his management style, have also earned him many critics.

Mr Karbaschi, aged 45, is a former cleric. He was imprisoned under the regime of the former shah for his political activities.

Since the Islamic Revolution in 1979, he has held many important positions.

In 1982, the late Ayatollah Khomeini personally appointed him to serve as the governor of the important province of Isfahan.

His success led to his promotion in 1989 to mayor of Tehran, a city devastated by war and neglect.

He gave the city a face-lift with clean-up and "green" campaigns, and has built cultural centres, sports grounds and art galleries.

He angered the traditional bazaar merchants for his taxation policies, and the conservatives were quick to take advantage of it.

'Robbing the rich'

He even tried to cultivate a "Robin Hood" image by taxing the rich in northern Tehran and spending the money on social services for the poor in the south of the city.

Some economists say that the overtaxing of developers contributed to a sharp rise in house prices in the capital.

Corruption allegations in the Tehran municipality emerged about one year ago and several of the city's officials have been jailed for fraud and using public funds for political purposes. But some of them later said that they were tortured during detention and forced to implicate Mr Karbaschi in corruption.

Mr Karbaschi himself was arrested in April but later released after violent demonstrations in the streets of Tehran. But in early June he was charged with embezzlement, fraud and mismanagement of public funds.

Conspiracy theory

During the six-week trial, he repeatedly said that the charges were politically motivated, and he was never involved in corruption.

His supporters believe that the main reason for his arrest was the conservatives' desire to undermine the government of President Khatami.

The trial has drawn huge publicity in Iran and the novelty of broadcasting its proceedings on radio and television have captivated millions of people.

Most people see Mr Karbaschi as a victim of the conservatives and they are outraged by the harsh verdict.

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