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Former Iranian President Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, a wily political survivor and multimillionaire mogul who remained among the ruling elite despite moderate views, died Sunday, state TV reported. He was 82.
Iranian media reported earlier Sunday that he was taken to a hospital north of Tehran because of a heart condition. State television broke into programming to announce his death.
Rafsanjani’s mix of sly wit and reputation for cunning moves – both in politics and business – earned him a host of nicknames such as Akbar Shah, or Great King, during a life that touched every major event in Iranian affairs since before the 1979 Islamic Revolution.
His presence – whether directly or through back channels – was felt in many forms. He was a steady leader in Iran’s turbulent years after overthrowing the U.S.-backed shah, a veteran warrior in the country’s internal political battles and a covert go-between in intrigue such as the Iran-Contra arms deals in the 1980s.
He also was handed an unexpected political resurgence in his later years.
The surprise presidential election in 2013 of Rafsanjani’s political soul mate, Hassan Rouhani, gave the former president an insider role in reform-minded efforts that included Rouhani’s push for direct nuclear talks with Washington.
Rouhani’s victory was also another example of Rafsanjani’s remarkable political luck. Rafsanjani was blocked from the ballot by Iran’s election overseers – presumably worried about boosting his already wide-ranging influence. But, in the end, many liberals turned to Rouhani as an indirect vote for Rafsanjani.
It came after years of dwindling influence. Another presidential comeback bid was snuffed out by Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s surprise victory in 2005 elections, which left Rafsanjani and his powerful clan as fierce critics of Ahmadinejad.