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Report: Ex-Iran president's son returns from exile to answer charges of inciting protests

The son of former Iranian president Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani has reportedly returned to Iran from exile to answer charges of inciting unrest after a disputed election in 2009, fueling speculation that Rafsanjani's influence in Tehran may once again be growing. 

Hasan Sarbakhshian / AP file

Former president Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, one of the founding figures of the Islamic Republic, incurred the anger of conservatives after backing opposition candidates in 2009 elections.

Mehdi Hashemi Rafsanjani arrived in Tehran late on Sunday, the Iran-based Fars news agency reported, having spent three years in the United Kingdom following his alleged involvement in the widespread protests that followed the re-election of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. 

Mehdi Rafsanjani had spent several days in Dubai and had been expected to return to Iran on Sunday, an independent source told Reuters. 

Analysts say his return indicates a deal has been agreed with authorities to resolve the charges he faces, and suggests his father's political fortunes may be reviving. 

Akbar Rafsanjani played a central role in the Non-Aligned Movement summit in Tehran last month, being photographed walking alongside Iran's most powerful authority, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, and sat next to U.N. Secretary General Ban-Ki Moon. 

If the Rafsanjani family fortunes are changing, it may well have to do with his reputation as a business leader who could help boost the country's flagging economy, NBC News' Tehran bureau chief Ali Arouzi said. 

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As oil sanctions continue to bite and with a presidential election set for next year, some are tipping the pragmatic yet conservative Rafsanjani as a surprise candidate. 

While they have faced persecution in recent years, the family is at the heart of the system and is reputed to be hugely wealthy, Arouzi said.  

"Rafsanjani is a businessman first and foremost," he said. "He could be brought back in to the presidential arena (to) act as a go-between for the hardliners and reformists."

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The Rafsanjanis have faced heightened pressure from hardliners since the 2009 vote, which set off the deepest political crisis and worst unrest in Iran since the 1979 Islamic Revolution. 

The former president is one of the founding figures of the Islamic Republic and a close aide to the revolutionary leader Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini. 

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But his backing of opposition candidates in 2009 and sympathy for opposition demonstrators incurred the anger of conservatives and led to a decline in his influence. 

Mehdi Rafsanjani's reported return comes 24 hours after another member of the powerful and wealthy Rafsanjani family, his sister Faezeh, began a six-month jail sentence for "spreading anti-state propaganda."

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Her conviction at the start of this year is believed to be over an interview she gave to an opposition news site in which she criticized human rights violations and economic policy in Iran.

NBC News' Ali Arouzi and Reuters contributed to this report. 

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