Ayatollah Ali Khamenei controls £60 billion financial empire, report says
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2018 January 03 ( Tuesday ) 02:02:29
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 US$95 billion (£60 billion) - 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 helping to tighten his grip on his 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 were 40 per cent 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.
Legal action taken by the Islamic authorities claiming that the shah and his wife had stolen $35 billion - roughly $79 billion in today's values - after fleeing the country at the time of the revolution was dismissed by a US court.
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.
"The revenue stream generated by Setad helps explain why Khamenei has not only held on for 24 years but also in some ways has more control than his revered predecessor," Reuters wrote. "Setad gives him the financial means to operate independently of parliament and the national budget, insulating him from Iran's messy factional infighting."
Its assets include properties confiscated from business people and Iranians living abroad, the investigation concluded.
The report highlighted cases of houses and possessions being seized from members of the Bahai community - a religious sect not recognised by the regime and whose members are subject to systematic persecution, human rights campaigners say.
One 82-year-old Bahai woman - now living in Europe - described how her apartment and those of her three children in a multi-storey building her family had owned for years were taken away by Setad after a long campaign of harrassment.
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, many recruited from the military and security services.
Hamid Vaezi, Setad's head of public relations, told Reuters in an email that its information was "far from realities and is not correct". He also said Setad disputd the allegations of the US reasury department and was "in the process of retaining U.S. counsel to address this matter."