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Iran's parliament drops impeachment over economy

NASSER KARIMI, Associated Press
Sunday, 7 Oct 2012 | 3:17 AM ET

TEHRAN, Iran -- Iran's parliament on Sunday abandoned its planned impeachment of a Cabinet minister over the free-fall of the country's currency, opting instead to look for more effective economic measures, like cutting spending.

Iran's parliament speaker Ali Larijani stopped an debate on impeaching Sports and Youth Minister Mohammad Abbasi, saying some lawmakers withdrew "because of the economic situation," indicating that fixing the economy was more important than political moves.

Larijani said, "Parliament made a right decision. Regarding the current economic situation, the parliament prefers dealing with economy."

"The economy is not in a proper situation," said Kamal Alipour, who signed the impeachment request. "The currency is not in a proper condition."

Another lawmaker, Mohammad Ghasim Osmani said, "The currency is the main problem."

The open session of parliament was broadcast live on Iranian state radio.

Ten lawmakers signed the original impeachment petition, the minimum number required.

The aborted move to impeach the minister reflects unease over the severe drop in the value of the Iranian rial, mostly because of Western sanctions over Iran's suspect nuclear program.

On Sunday the parliament approved outlines of a bill to restrict the government's use of different exchange rates for its foreign revenue and requiring the return of some funds to the treasury. Details will be discussed next week.

Recent economic decisions have led to a three-price tier in the Iran's currency market.

There is an official rate of 12,260 rials to the dollar for importing food and medicine and a semi-official price for importing industrial equipment of around 25,650 rials, while the street price is about 30,000 rials.

Iran used a single floating exchange system for currencies until last year.

Some lawmakers have accused the administration of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad of profiting from the different rates. They charge the gaps have encouraged the government not to take action against the fall of the currency.

In another development, Tehran chief prosecutor Abbas Jafari Dowlatabadi said that since Wednesday, 30 people have been detained for "disrupting" the currency , a reference to speculators trying to take advantage of the rial's declining value.

Dowlatabadi said late Saturday that authorities confiscated $400,000 from one of the detainees.

Many officials have blamed the fall in value of the rial on traders and dealers, while foreign experts point to the drop as evidence that international sanctions against Iran over its nuclear program are effective.

Iran's central bank urged people to trade hard currencies only in exchange shops or banks.

Since Saturday, Iran's currency is said to be rebounding from record lows. However, many exchange shops have stopped trading because of confusing exchange rates for hard currencies.

Last week protests flared in Tehran, a rare public display of anger over economic conditions after the Iranian rial hit an all-time low of 35,500 to the dollar, dropping from 24,000 rials a few days earlier.

The rate was about 10,000 rials as recently as early last year.