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Iranian interior minister admits credentials fake

The phony Oxford law degree has raised questions about the qualifications of the president's inner circle.

October 02, 2008|Ramin Mostaghim and Borzou Daragahi | Special to The Times

TEHRAN — Politicians pounced on Iran's interior minister Wednesday after the ally of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad admitted that he had submitted a phony degree from Oxford University to get a job as the country's top cop.

In a letter to Ahmadinejad released this week, Interior Minister Ali Kordan said he had used false credentials to bolster the case for getting his position, whose duties include guarding against fraud and forgery in Iran's upcoming presidential election.

He said he had been duped by an intermediary who had given him the degree. According to his letter, he submitted his qualifications eight years ago to "an agency in Tehran for English-language affairs" that represents Oxford University.

Kordan said he never doubted the authenticity of his honorary law degree, though it was filled with spelling and grammatical mistakes, until lawmakers began questioning his qualifications over the summer.

Now, he wants to pursue the man he says granted him the degree, though he doesn't name him.

"I found it necessary to send an envoy to the university and get reconfirmation," said the letter, which was excerpted Monday by the semiofficial Fars News Agency. "Unbelievably, the degree was not confirmed. I tried to contact the liaison officer of Oxford University in Tehran and ask him the reasons. But the more I searched for him, the less I found any trace of him."

The controversy over Kordan's credentials emerged this summer after lawmakers began questioning his claim that he had the degree. He produced a certificate with the words, "University of Oxford" and "Honorary Law Doctorate" at the top. But Oxford quickly disavowed any connection to Kordan.

The issue has raised questions about the qualifications of Ahmadinejad's inner circle. His government has been criticized at home for mismanaging the country's economy and for squandering oil wealth on dubious populist projects.

Kordan's claim that he was fooled by a con artist is being viewed suspiciously.

"Ali Kordan told lies to the parliament, therefore it is a case of fraud and he should be brought to justice because he has misused his vote of confidence," Abbas Abdi, a moderate politician opposed to Ahmadinejad, said in a telephone interview Wednesday.

Even if Kordan's explanation is true, the fact that he didn't figure out his error-riddled degree was fake for eight years may hurt his credibility when he's overseeing the presidential election next year. After Iran's 2005 presidential election, politicians accused officials supervising the voting of switching ballot boxes and other shenanigans to tilt the results in favor of Ahmadinejad.

"If he's such a simpleton that he can be deceived about his own degree, then he can't be reliable for the position of interior minister," Abdi said.

Several Iranian lawmakers have called for his removal.

"Ali Kordan must resign, apologize and look for another job," Ahmad Tavakoli, a prominent conservative lawmaker often at odds with Ahmadinejad, told the Iranian news website Fararu.com.

But for now, at least, many lawmakers aren't pushing too hard to remove Kordan, in part because he is seen as one of the more qualified for the job among Ahmadinejad loyalists. He has served as an acting public prosecutor and as a member of the elite Revolutionary Guard.

Abdi said such appointments have been characteristic of the Ahmadinejad administration. "On the whole, I can say he fits this government," he said. "Such a liar is fit for the government of Ahmadinejad."

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daragahi@latimes.com

Special correspondent Mostaghim reported from Tehran and Times staff writer Daragahi from Beirut.

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