Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad on Tuesday criticised the judiciary over the arrest of his ally and ex-Tehran prosecutor, Saeed Mortazavi, amid a brewing political fight between state branches.
Mortazavi was arrested late on Monday and transferred to Tehran's notorious Evin prison, where many political prisoners and journalists have been imprisoned over years on his orders, according to media reports.
The office of Tehran's prosecutor did not give any reason for the arrest.
Speaking to reporters before departing for Egypt on Tuesday, Ahmadinejad termed the arrest a "very ugly action," saying he would pursue Mortazavi's fate after returning from his three-day visit, the official IRNA news agency reported.
Mortazavi was suspended in August 2010 along with two other judges over the death in prison of three anti-government protesters in the aftermath of the 2009 presidential election that re-elected Ahmadinejad.
A parliamentary probe found him responsible for sending protesters to Kahrizak, a detention centre south of Tehran, and demanded that he be punished. That case is still under investigation.
Mortazavi was at the centre of a raucous parliamentary session on Sunday when the bad blood between Iran's government and parliament spilled into open with Ahmadinejad accusing speaker Ali Larijani and his family of nepotism and corruption.
Larijani and his four brothers who have held top positions in the regime form one of Iran’s most influential political families. Ayatollah Sadeq Larijani heads the judiciary.
Ahmadinejad on Sunday played a recording in which a voice said to be of one of Larijani brothers, Fazel, allegedly attempts to bribe Mortazavi by asking for a favour in exchange for political support of both parliament and the judiciary.
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On Tuesday, Ahmadinejad renewed the verbal assault.
"The judiciary is not a special organisation (to serve) a family," he said in an allusion to the Larijanis.
"A person has committed an offence and instead another person who exposed the offence is confronted. This is very ugly," Ahmadinejad said.
Fazel Larijani, an ex-diplomat who now heads a branch of the Islamic Azad University, has rejected the accusations. He said he would file a complaint against Ahmadinejad, according to media reports.
Other Larijani brothers Mohammad Javad and Bagher Larijani also run important organisations in Iran.
Mortazavi, targeted by US sanctions over "sustained and severe violations of human rights" as prosecutor, had been appointed as caretaker of Iran's wealthy social welfare organisation against the wishes of lawmakers.
In the heated parliament session on Sunday, a majority of MPs voted to remove the labour and social welfare minister, Abdolreza Sheikholeslam, for refusing to sack Mortazavi.
Sunday's brawl came as Iran gears up for its presidential election on June 14 to find a replacement for Ahmadinejad, whose victory in 2009 sparked protests against poll results which the opposition claimed were rigged.
The rift between Ahmadinejad and parliament, dominated by conservatives critical of his administration, first surfaced in April 2011 after he challenged a ruling by supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who has final say on all state matters.