Reporting by PMOI/MEK
Iran, August 15, 2020—In a recent interview on state television, the head Bonyad Mostazafan foundation acknowledged the prevalence of corruption among the Iran’s senior officials. As the head of Bonyad Mostazafan, or the “Foundation of the Oppressed,” Parviz Fattah ostensibly oversees the legal confiscation of property and the dissemination of proceeds to charitable causes. But as his interview noted, in practice he often watches as the foundation’s revenue is co-opted by Iranian regimes authorities for their own personal enrichment, or for spending on pet projects that serve the interests of the clerical regime but not the Iranian people.
Fattah’s admission was apparently aimed at absolving himself of responsibility for the corrupt activities taking place under his nose. But the actual effect is more likely to be reaffirmation of the public outrage that has grown in response to recurring stories of corruption among Iranian government institutions and so-called charitable foundations. After all, Fattah’s televised statements were not the first instance of a representative of those institutions trying to deflect blame for the disappearance of public wealth. It will also not be the last, and there is little reason to suspect that meaningful changes will take place in its wake.
There are many reasons for this skepticism. But perhaps none are more convincing than the simple fact that the corrupt practices Fattah described are observable at every level of the regime’s political, financial, and clerical leadership. This naturally includes the office of Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei, who wields ultimate authority over all matters of policy in the Islamic Republic, including anti-corruption initiatives. He is also arguably the most corrupt official of them all, wielding personal control over literally hundreds of billions of dollars that might otherwise be disseminated among an overwhelmingly impoverished populous.
By some accounts, roughly 80 percent of the Iranian people are currently living below the poverty line. What’s more, this situation appears to be steadily growing worse, as unemployment proliferates and the value of Iran’s national currency plummets to historic lows. And although Iranian officials have naturally tried to blame the situation on Western sanctions, this narrative has been roundly rejected by private citizens, hundreds of thousands of whom took part in two recent, nationwide uprisings against the corrupt and self-serving religious dictatorship.
Both of those uprisings, one in January 2018 and another in November 2019, began with the expression of economic grievances and then morphed into outright calls for regime change. In both cases, participants in more than 100 Iranian cities chanted slogans that included “death to the dictator,” in reference to Khamenei. For some, this message may have conveyed recognition of the supreme leader’s personal responsibility for the growing threats to their financial futures, and ultimately their survival.
In 2013, Reuters News Agency published a detailed investigative report on the “Assets of the Ayatollah.” While noting that it represented only a portion of his overall financial holdings, the report concluded that an institution known as Setad, which Khamenei personally controls, owned at least 95 billion dollars’ worth of real estate and corporate stakes. Reuters then explained that a substantial portion of these holdings were derived from the arbitrary confiscation of private citizens’ homes, businesses, and land.
The Reuters report included several personal stories of individuals’ futile efforts to retain their property in the face of the greedy preoccupations of the supreme leader’s supposedly charitable organization. More recently, reports from the National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI) have outlined how Setad and other institutions under Khamenei’s control have largely abandoned their charitable roots in favor of redirecting public wealth toward pet projects that include financial support for Hezbollah, the Iraqi Popular Mobilization Forces, and other terrorist groups scattered throughout the region.
Awareness of this situation was also broadly reflected in the 2018 and 2019 uprisings, as protesters called upon Khamenei and his regime to “forget about” foreign entanglements like the Syrian Civil War, and to instead focus on the dire needs of the Iranian people. One can only imagine how much stronger this sentiment has become since the violent end of the latter uprising, as the regime has since been gripped by one of the worst coronavirus outbreaks in the world, and its people have received little help from their government.
The regime’s blatant disinterest in providing such help was made apparent when Khamenei waited for nearly a month before approving a for the release of one billion dollars from the country’s Sovereign Wealth Fund, for the express purpose of combating the virus. That delay revealed the regime’s callous disregard for the public’s welfare when one considers the among of money that is constantly at the supreme leader’s fingertips.
By all accounts that sum has continued to grow even after the advent of “maximum pressure.” The Reuters report pointed out that some of the assets in Khamenei’s foundations have traditionally remained untouched by sanctions. And the NCRI has reported that other institutions with close ties to the supreme leader, such as the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps’ industrial front, Khatam al-Anbia, now control the vast majority of Iran’s gross domestic product. In fact, their revue far outweighs the value of the nation’s oil exports, and this fact exposes the awful motivation behind Khamenei’s stinginess in the face of coronavirus.
By tightly limiting the amount of money that was made available to the people after the onset of the pandemic, the supreme leader effectively compelled Iranians to return to work when the domestic economy started reopening. That process began far too early, and the Islamic Republic has paid for it with tens of thousands of additional deaths just since April. But those deaths also spared the regime from sacrificing Khamenei’s plan to make the current Iranian calendar year, which began in late March, the “year of boosting production.”
One glance at Khamenei’s finance reveals that the country as a whole is well positioned to survive the coronavirus outbreak, provided that the clerical regime is willing to give up its terrorist financing, its consolidation of power, and the personal enrichment of its leaders and loyalists.
In reality, neither Khamenei nor any of his political allies have proven willing, over the past 30-plus years, to give up any of this for the sake of the public good. Corruption is a firmly established feature of the Iranian regime, and although its beneficiaries may occasionally recognize this fact, as Parviz Fattah did in his television interview, no one is in a position to push back against the self-serving ambitions of the supreme leader. No one, that is, except for the Iranian people and the organized Resistance movement that led them through two recent uprisings.
In the wake of a devastating coronavirus outbreak and in the midst of unrelenting corruption, those people will inevitable rise up again at some point in the future. And when they do, their motive will be clear: to pursue regime change as the only way of rooting out corruption and returning public wealth to the Iranian people.