* Supreme leader weighs into embezzlement blame game
* Lawmakers call for high-level sackings
* Ahmadinejad under pressure
TEHRAN, Oct 3 Iran's supreme leader criticised
the government on Monday for failing to prevent a $2.6
billion embezzlement, weighing into the
political blame game over the biggest bank fraud the
Islamic Republic has ever seen.
In his first comments on the case that has prompted calls
for senior politicians to be sacked, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said
officials had defied his instructions to stamp out corruption.
"I gave strong advice to the country's officials in recent
years about combating economic corruption," Khamenei said in
televised comments. "They welcomed my advice but, if correctly
implemented, the recent economic corruption ... would not have
The scandal , where well-connected
businessmen appear to have siphoned off a
fortune , has shocked Iranians who are facing
constantly rising prices, a sluggish economy and stubborn
unemployment. In response to public opinion, the prosecutor in
charge has said culprits could be executed.
The head of Iran's biggest bank, state-owned Bank Melli,
resigned and reportedly fled the country over the affair and
some politicians have called for the central bank governor and
economy minister to be fired in what has become a partisan blame
game ahead of a parliamentary election next March.
Eleven members of parliament, enough to begin an impeachment
procedure, have signed a letter accusing the government over the
fraud, the semi-official Mehr news agency reported on Monday.
That adds to pressure on President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad who
was already under fire from hardline conservatives who accuse
him of being in the thrall of a "deviant current" of advisers
trying to undermine the authority of Khamenei and the clergy's
role in the Islamic Republic.
The hardline Kayhan newspaper said the mastermind behind the
fraud had links with Ahmadinejad's chief of staff, Esfandiar
The publisher of another conservative daily Siyasat-e Rouz
speculated that some of the stolen money was given to the
"deviant current" for use in the parliamentary election
The judiciary said the scam involved an Iranian investment
company fraudulently securing bank loans on a massive scale.
Ahmadinejad has denied any government wrongdoing and has
urged the judiciary to pursue the case vigorously. At least 19
arrests have been made so far.
(Reporting By Mitra Amiri)