Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad flashes the victory sign as he attends… (Amr Nabil / Associated Press )
TEHRAN -- A key ally of Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has been released from jail, Iranian news services reported Wednesday, the latest development in a case that has highlighted internal political squabbles in advance of June’s presidential elections.
Saeed Mortazavi, a trusted presidential aide, was arrested Monday, reportedly on corruption charges.
There has been no official explanation of why Mortazavi was arrested or why he was released. But the case has generated considerable interest in Iran as the nation prepares for the elections.
Ahmadinejad is completing his second term and cannot run again under Iranian law.
One of the president's chief rivals, parliamentary speaker Ali Larijani, member of a politically powerful family, is expected to stand as a candidate. The president and Larijani this week resumed a campaign of verbal broadsides against each other.
On Sunday, Ahmadinejad played before parliament a barely audible video clip in which Larijani’s brother allegedly discusses a corrupt business deal with Mortazavi, who holds a high position atop the nation’s social security apparatus.
The outraged parliamentary speaker said his brother’s business dealings had nothing to do with him and accused the president of besmirching the dignity of the Islamic Republic.
The following day, Mortazavi was reported arrested. One report in the Iranian media indicated corruption allegations were behind the arrest, though that was never officially confirmed.
For his part, Ahmadinejad denounced the arrest of his ally and complained the judiciary, headed by another Larijani brother, had become a “family fiefdom.”
Mortazavi is a former prosecutor who has been linked to harsh crackdowns on the media. A parliamentary panel found him responsible two years ago for the mistreatment of prisoners after the 2009 elections, including the deaths of three detainees. Human Rights Watch, the New York-based watchdog group, labeled him "a serial human rights abuser" and called for a broad inquiry of his record.
He was a prosecutor at the time of the controversial death in custody in 2003 of Zahra Kazemi, an Iranian Canadian photojournalist. He has faced no criminal proceedings in connection with the deaths of the protesters or the case of the photojournalist.
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Times staff writer Patrick J. McDonnell in Beirut contributed to this report.