Saturday 16 December 2017

Ayatollah builds €70bn financial empire

Ayatollah Khamenei, Iran's supreme leader, secures his power with immense wealth.
Ayatollah Khamenei, Iran's supreme leader, secures his power with immense wealth.

Robert Tait

Iran's supreme leader and pivotal political figure has used a vast financial empire to secure his power, according to an investigation.

Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, Iran's supreme leader, controls a financial empire worth an estimated $95bn (€71bn) – far greater than the wealth accumulated by the late shah, the deposed pro-Western monarch.

Assets often based on property seizures have been acquired by an organisation called Headquarters for Executing the Order of the Imam (shortened to Setad in Farsi) under Ayatollah Khamenei's authority and are helping to tighten his grip on power, according to Reuters.

A six-month investigation by the news agency showed that Setad – originally founded by the late Ayatollah Ruollah Khomeini, spiritual leader of Iran's Islamic revolution – had expanded into a "business juggernaut" in the past six years, to hold stakes in every sector of the Iranian economy. This included finance, oil, telecommunications, production of contraception pills and even ostrich farming.

Its dramatic growth has attracted the attention of the US Treasury Department, which imposed sanctions on the organisation last year after branding it "a massive network of front companies hiding assets on behalf of Iran's leadership".

The value of Setad's assets was 40pc higher than Iran's total oil revenues for the past year and significantly exceed the presumed riches of Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, who was ousted in the 1979 revolution that brought the current Islamic regime to power.

While there is little evidence that Ayatollah Khamenei – renowned for a spartan lifestyle – had used the assets to enrich himself, Reuters reported that they had enabled him to consolidate his power and position himself above the regime's rival factions.

INFIGHTING

"Setad gives him the financial means to operate independently of parliament and the national budget, insulating him from Iran's messy factional infighting," Reuters wrote.

Its assets include properties confiscated from regime opponents and people living abroad, the investigation concluded.

While Setad has built schools, roads and provided electricity in impoverished areas, Reuters reported, much of the wealth it has acquired has been retained rather than redistributed.

Some of it has been used to fund Ayatollah Khamenei's office, known as Beit-e Rahbar (the leader's house), which now employs around 500 people.

Hamid Vaezi, Setad's head of public relations, said Setad disputed the allegations of the US Treasury Department and was "in the process of retaining US counsel to address this matter". (© Daily Telegraph, London)

Irish Independent

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