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Iran: Unprecedented power struggle over Khamenei’s successor

Power struggle over position of the Iranian supreme leader
Power struggle over position of the Iranian supreme leader

Analysis by PMOI/MEK


Iran, August 20, 2019—In an unexpected development in Iran, the power struggle over the position of the Iranian supreme leader has increased dramatically.

Mohammad Yazdi, a senior Iranian regime official who is a member of the Guardian Council and previously headed the judiciary, attacked Sadeq Larijani, also a former head of the judiciary and, according to rumors, a potential successor for the Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei.

Reports indicate that Ebrahim Raisi, the current judiciary chief and one of the main figures involved in the 1988 massacre of political prisoners in Iran, is behind the disclosure of Larijani’s corruption. Raisi aims to remove Larijani from the political scene as a potential competitor to succeed Khamenei. Now, it appears that Larijani’s recent threats that he is going to the holy city of Najaf in Iraq, forgoing any political or executive posts, are more credible.

This makes more sense when you take into account that Sadeq Larijani is a so-called white-turban mullah, while Ebrahim Raisi himself is black-turbaned.

In the traditions of Shiite Islam, black-turban mullahs are descendants of the Prophet Mohammad, while white-turbaned mullahs are “ordinary” mullahs. As such, having a black turban counts as a great advantage in the competition for becoming the Supreme Leader of the mullahs' Islamic Republic.

Following the arrest of Larijani’s deputy Akbar Tabari, and the pattern of arresting members of former Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s close circle, Sadeq Larijani, who currently also chairs the Expediency Discernment Council, wrote a letter to Khamenei threatening to resign and retreat to Najaf, Iraq, which is a Shiite stronghold.

According to Iranian media, that’s when Mohammad Yazdi, a member of the Guardian Council and former judiciary head, confirmed Larijani’s corruption file and his retreat to Najaf.

In meeting with a number of regime officials in Qom, Yazdi addressed the issue of Larijani. “This person says if you don’t do this, I’m going to go to Najaf! Go [as you wish]! Do you think that your going will create an upheaval in Qom? Your being in Qom hadn’t much of an impact in the first place, let alone you going to Najaf. A head of office who has been managing an important place for ten years is arrested, and then you protest why he was apprehended? Under the pretext of building a seminary, they built a palace!… Where did they get [the money] to build [that]?”

Yazdi further attacked Iranian regime President Hassan Rouhani in his remarks. “How come someone who’s been confirmed by the Supreme Leader dares to take action against the leadership? Like opposing the policy regarding the cyberspace and...,” he said.

In the mullahs’ regime, the president needs to be confirmed by the Supreme Leader after election. The candidates for the presidency are also vetted by the Guardian Council before being allowed to run for office. Unsurprisingly, the Supreme Leader is the one who selects the Guardian Council members.

Yazdi then ridiculed the claims of Khomeini’s and Seyyed Hossein Borujerdi’s grandchildren of being Marjas (religious leaders). “If one day, they formally claim to be Marjas, if I am alive, I’ll officially prevent it and formally announce that,” he said.

In the traditions of Shiite Islam, Marja is a grand ayatollah who is a source of emulation for other Muslims, and they refer to him for answers of all sorts. Ruhollah Khomeini, founder of the Islamic Republic of Iran, and Seyyed Hossein Borujerdi are two well-known Marjas in the mullahs' regime.

“Being the grandchild of a Marja isn’t a legal reason to become Marja,” Yazdi said. “It can’t be that every other day someone claims to be a Marja. If such an individual puts up a billboard, we are going to bring down his billboard,” he added.

Yazdi then revealed his true motives. “Don’t let the Islamic rule weaken and the seminary become against the regime,” he warned.

On August 14, Mohsen Ghanbarian, a conservative mullah who teaches at the Qom seminary, attacked Sadegh Larijani’s luxurious lifestyle on national television. “The most luxurious seminaries belong to whom right now? The former head of the judiciary,” he said.

Iranian state-run media are full of commentary and stories about the recent feud between these two factions of the ruling elite, with some of them warning about the consequences of such a high-level fight getting out of control and damaging the entire regime for good. Others are warning about a dead-end that the mullahs' regime is facing.

Jahan-e Sanat, a newspaper close to Rouhani’s faction which specializes in economic news, writes, “Considering Yazdi’s statements [against Larijani], the Guardian Council sessions will be more spectacular than before. When two key members of Iran’s political structure who are supposed to guard the constitution are in such a dispute, how do they want to sit around a table?”

Jomhuri Eslami newspaper writes, “The very important point about this pointless fight that all the concerning parties need to pay attention to is that while the people are dealing with economic difficulties, these gentlemen’s fight over these issues does nothing but alienate them from the clergy. These gentlemen should, please, resolve their class fights between themselves and don’t drag it into the society.”

“When anything is said and no red lines are respected, this indicates political chaos, a lack of organization, and consistent mismanagement in the country. It needs to stop as soon as possible,” the Jomhuri Eslami concluded.

Last year, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo revealed that Sadegh Larijani, then head of Iran’s judiciary, has a net worth of at least $300 million, accumulated by funneling public assets to his private accounts.

Naser Makarem Shirazi has accumulated more than $100 million through illegal trading of sugar and has earned the nickname of the king of sugar in Iran.

Khamenei himself sits over a $95-billion economic empire.

In his remarks at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Foundation and Library in July last year, Secretary Pompeo said: “Economically, we see how the regime’s decision to prioritize an ideological agenda over the welfare of the Iranian people has put Iran into a long-term economic tailspin. During the time of the nuclear deal, Iran’s increased oil revenues could have gone to improving the lives of the Iranian people. Instead they went to terrorists, dictators, and proxy militias.”

“Regime mismanagement has led to the rial plummeting in value. A third of Iranian youth are unemployed, and a third of Iranians now live below the poverty line,” he added.

Referring to the blatant corruption in a regime riddled with nepotism, Pompeo continued: “The Iranian economy is going great – but only if you’re a politically-connected member of the elite.”

Referring to the popular discontent and the widespread hatred for the regime, he said: “Two years ago, Iranians rightfully erupted in anger when leaked paystubs showed massive amounts of money inexplicably flowing into the bank accounts of senior government officials.”

Secretary Pompeo then goes on to list some of the well-known examples of corruption among the ruling elite: “Take Sadeq Larijani, the head of Iran’s judiciary. He is worth at least $300 million dollars. He got this money from embezzling public funds into his own bank account.”

“Former IRGC officer and Minister of Interior Sadeq Mahsouli is nicknamed 'the Billionaire General.' He went from being a poor IRGC officer at the end of the Iran-Iraq war to being worth billions of dollars. How’d that happen? He somehow had a knack for winning lucrative construction and oil trading contracts from businesses associated with the IRGC. Being an old college buddy of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad just might have had something to do with it as well.”

“Grand Ayatollah Makaram Shirazi is known as the 'Sultan of Sugar' for his illicit trading of sugar, which has generated over $100 million for him. He has pressured the Iranian Government to lower subsidies to domestic sugar producers while he floods the market with his own more expensive imported sugar. This type of activity puts ordinary Iranians out of work.”

“And not many people know this, but the Ayatollah Khamenei has his own personal, off-the-books hedge fund called the Setad, worth $95 billion, with a B. That wealth is untaxed, it is ill-gotten, and it is used as a slush fund for the IRGC.”