Page last updated at 14:23 GMT, Tuesday, 4 November 2008

MP's fake degree stokes anger in Iran

Ali Kordan addresses parliament before being impeached

Jon Leyne
BBC News, Tehran

Farce of the fake Oxford degree. It would make a good title for a comedy.

But it is in danger of turning to political tragedy for President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

For years, Iran's Interior Minister Ali Kordan has claimed to hold a doctorate from Oxford University and taken increased pay as a result.

But in recent months, it emerged that the document was a crude forgery, containing several misspellings.

As for the minister, he did not even seem to know the name of the institution, which he continued to describe as the "London Oxford University".

In fact, it turned out he did not have a degree from any university, despite having worked as a university lecturer.

The minister insisted he had acted in good faith, after he was offered the degree by someone claiming to be the Tehran representative of the "London Oxford University".


But in an angry impeachment debate in parliament, one MP said the minister had regaled his own students with tales of his student days at Oxford.

Other MPs attacked President Ahmadinejad for his naivety in believing the minister's lies.

All of this was stoked by a blatant attempt to buy off the impeachment by an aide of the president.

The official offered wads of cash to MPs - the equivalent of $5,000 (3,150) each.

The Bodleian Library at Oxford University
I have 30 years of executive background... I do not need a degree
Ali Kordan, Iranian Interior Minister

They were told it was for mosques in their constituencies.

But one of two sheets of papers they were asked to sign was actually a form withdrawing their names from the impeachment motion.

The incident led to a punch-up in the parliament and the dismissal of the official.

As for President Ahmadinejad, he angered academics and Iran's many hard-working students by arguing that degrees did not matter as they were only "pieces of paper."

Then he infuriated MPs by claiming the impeachment hearing was illegitimate, and he was not going to attend.

So, it is not even clear yet whether the president will accept the dismissal of his minister.

Vote of confidence

But according to the letter of the constitution, he should now put up the whole of his remaining cabinet for a vote of confidence.

In Iran's sometimes devious politics, it was assumed for a while that President Ahmadinejad had engineered the humiliation of his interior minister in order to replace him with a closer political ally.

But the president has stood by Mr Kordan, and their political fates have become increasingly intertwined.

The crisis has turned into a lightning rod for growing discontent over Mr Ahmadinejad.

As the economy moves from bad to worse, he is becoming increasingly unpopular.

And as oil prices continue to tumble, everyone is asking how much is left from the windfall of $147 (93) a barrel oil.

With presidential elections due next summer, Mr Ahmadinejad is in some trouble.

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