By Hamid Yazdan Panah
One of the key points absent from the discussion on the deal with Iran is the direct benefit it confers on the financial empire of Ali Khamenei and his fascist regime in Iran.
A 2013 report by Reuters uncovered the vast financial empire of Khamenei. According to the report, which was based on a 6 month investigation, Khamenei “controls a business empire worth around $95 billion – a sum exceeding the value of his oil-rich nation’s current annual petroleum exports.”
Khamenei uses the business front known as “Setad” to extend his influence into every corner of the Iranian economy, including: “finance, oil, telecommunications, the production of birth-control pills and even ostrich farming.”
The report details Khamanei’s use of the Iranian state apparatus to systematically confiscate property from ordinary Iranians, including “members of religious minorities, Shi’ite Muslims, business people and Iranians living abroad.” Under the pretense of operating under the Supreme Leader, Setad has used the country’s judiciary as a tool to consolidate financial resources for its own benefit.
This type of interference in the economy on behalf of Khamenei and the IRGC is nothing short of fascism, and is the primary reason why the IRGC now controls up to one third of Iran’s economy.
Reuters estimates Setad’s total net work to be “around $95 billion, made up of about $52 billion in real estate and $43 billion in corporate holding.” Giving Khamenei access to financial resources which rival that of the Shah.
Over the last decade the Iranian regime has shifted from operating purely based on ideological motivations, to ensuring its own survival through an incentivized economic foundation which combines State power with industry. The Revolutionary Guard’s heavy involvement in the economy further accentuates this fact.
Khamenei has not only looted the country of wealth for the benefit of himself and his cronies, but he has utilized his position as a means of survival.
As Reuters points out; “The revenue stream generated by Setad helps explain why he has not only held on for 24 years but also in some ways has more control than even his revered predecessor. Setad gives him the financial means to operate independently of parliament and the national budget, insulating him from Iran’s messy factional infighting.”
It should be noted that many Western companies continue to do business with Setad, and have benefitted from Khamenei’s empire of greed. “Even as Setad was gaining ever-greater control over the Iranian economy in recent years, the Western powers knew of the organization and its connection to the supreme leader – the one man with the power to halt Tehran’s uranium-enrichment program. But they moved cautiously, and Setad largely escaped foreign pressure.”
Once again we see the policy of appeasement employed by the West benefitting the ruling clergy in Iran and undermining the hopes of the Iranian people who remain victims of this regime.
A recent report by Reuters underscores the IRGC’s backing of the nuclear deal as being predicated on their desire to expand their financial empire and benefit from the removal of sanctions. Other analysts have pointed out just how the IRGC stands to benefit from sanction relief.
Khamenei himself has repeatedly insisted on the removal of sanctions as a precondition to any type of deal, and it is not difficult to see why. As it stands he is set to gain tens of millions of dollars following the removal of sanctions on all companies affiliated with himself and the IRGC.
Ultimately the expansion of this business empire means the continual oppression and extortion of the Iranian people by Khamenei and the IRGC. This is a heavy price to pay, but it appears the West has no problem with it, as long as it provides them with a short term nuclear deal
Hamid Yazdan Panah is an Iranian-American human rights activist and attorney focused on immigration and asylum in the San Francisco Bay Area.