* Major Iranian bank bosses lose their posts -ministry
* $2.6 bln financial fraud has shaken Ahmadinejad government
* Economy Minister faces impeachment threat by lawmakers
By Robin Pomeroy
TEHRAN, Sept 27 A $2.6 billion financial fraud
that has shaken the government of Iranian President Mahmoud
Ahmadinejad saw the heads of three of the country's banks ousted
on Tuesday as lawmakers threaten to impeach the economy
The biggest fraud in the 32-year history of the Islamic
Republic could result in the death penalty for anyone found
guilty of it and has become part of an increasingly ugly split
in the conservative elite that runs Iran.
Ahmadinejad has rejected claims from his hardline rivals
that the investment company at the centre of the scandal has
links to his key aide, Esfandiar Rahim Mashaie, the focus of
fierce criticism by conservative politicians and clerics.
But that has not satisfied members of parliament who have
already threatened to impeach the president over other issues
and critics who accuse him of being in the thrall of a "deviant
current" of advisors seeking to undermine the authority of
Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.
With the government seeking to assert its authority in the
case, an ad hoc governmental committee has instructed the
Central Bank of Iran to remove the head of the bank at the
centre of the allegations, Bank Saderat, and of the smaller Bank
Saman, the Economy Ministry said on its website.
The chief of state-owned Bank Melli, Iran's biggest bank,
handed his resignation to the Economy Ministry, the website
A spokesman for Bank Saderat -- a large, partly privatised
company -- denied reports that the bank's chief had lost his
post, while Bank Melli and Bank Saman were not immediately
available for comment.
At least 19 people have been arrested so far for the alleged
scam which the judiciary said involved the fraudulent opening of
bank letters of credit by the Amir Mansour Aria investment
Hardline conservative newspaper Kayhan has said the
mastermind behind the fraud had links with Ahmadinejad's closest
Mashaie, once talked about as a possible successor to
Ahmadinejad whose time in office ends in 2013, has been accused
of heading the "deviant current" which the president's foes say
intends to dilute Iran's Islamic character and undermine the
role of the clergy.
The financial scandal has erupted in the run-up to
parliamentary elections in March and is set to become a central
With Iran's reformists sidelined after the government
crushed huge demonstrations following Ahmadinejad's disputed
re-election in 2009, the March vote will largely be fought
between rival conservative factions.
Prosecutor General Gholamhossein Mohseni-Ejei has said
culprits of the fraud may be executed.
"The perpetrator of the recent embezzlement will be hanged
if proven beyond doubt to be 'corrupt on Earth'," he said,
referring to a crime that carries the death penalty under Iran's
version of Sharia law.
Upping the pressure on Ahmadinejad, twenty members of Iran's
parliament have signed a petition to impeach Economy Minister
Shamseddin Hosseini over the affair.
"People who have given 200,000 martyrs for this
establishment do not expect to witness from it such a grand
violation of its banking system that has aroused a public
distrust of the system," lawmaker Aziz Akbarian told the
semi-official Fars news agency.
(Additional reporting by Hossein Jaseb; Editing by Alexander
Smith and Hans-Juergen Peters)