Iranian president criticizes country's growing corruption, in usually blunt terms

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani criticized growing corruption in the Islamic Republic in unusually blunt terms Monday, saying bribes once paid secretly are now being disbursed flagrantly in the open.

Iran is in the middle of a plan to decentralize and privatize its economy following its 1979 Islamic Revolution. Supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei has repeatedly warned officials against corruption during the program's implementation, and high-profile graft cases have shaken the country in recent years.

Speaking at an anti-corruption conference, Rouhani said Iranians "should apply all our power in fighting corruption."

"In the past, (money) was said to be given under the table. Now it is being given on the table," he said in comments aired live on state television. "The continuation, the deepening and the expansion of corruption is endangering ... the Islamic Revolution."

Rouhani said increasing openness in government and public awareness would help fight corruption.

Later on Monday, Intelligence minister Mahmoud Alavi said his agents had detained some 20 former officials who had been working under former President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad on corruption charges over the past months. Three are still in detention, he added, but the rest had been released. He did not identify any of the detained.

In May, Iran executed billionaire businessman Mahafarid Amir Khosravi, after his conviction as the key player in a $2.6 billion state bank scam, the largest since the Islamic Revolution.

In September, a spokesman for Iran's judiciary said former vice president Mohammad Reza Rahimi was convicted on a charge that includes a prison term and a cash fine. It came after repeated allegations of massive corruption levelled by foes of Iran's previous hard-line Ahmadinejad government.