Despotic Corruption Rocks Iran


In August 2019, over a dozen activists including figures close to the Iranian government signed an open letter calling for the resignation of Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. The leader was accused of causing Iran’s pervasive unaccountable corruption and systemic despotism.
There was no reaction to the open letter by Iranian officials. The Tasnim News Agency accused the activists of organizing an illegal gathering in Mashad, a conservative town in eastern Iran, and of encouraging riots across the country. The signatories said their gathering was small and peaceful.
One signatory, Kamal Jafari Yazdi, denounced the state’s attempts to silence calls for Khamenei’s resignation by launching a crackdown. He said security forces dispersed the peaceful gathering. Two female signatories to the letter, Fatemeh Sepehri and Houriya Farajzadeh, were arrested.
Iran’s mounting economic and political problems seem to have turned the political system cronies into its fiercest opposition. Open signs of discontent in the government’s ranks emerged last month, after the disclosure in local newspapers of widespread state corruption, when a figure formerly close to Khamenei, Mohammad Nourizad, was arrested for demanding the leader’s resignation.
Khamenei has since ordered a witch-hunt to investigate state corruption. A former head of the Iranian Football Federation Mohammad Dadkan says that financial corruption and not sanctions has destroyed Iranian society.
According to Dadkan, political corruption is equally problematic. He says the government forced him and his players to resign after their efforts to expose state corruption within the federation. Another popular sports figure,  Mazdak Mirzaei, who left Iran, confirmed that the state had turned football, a popular sport in Iran, into a political tool to control public opinion for political gains.
Many in Iran believe that the witch-hunt is useless, because corruption and despotism go hand in hand, and both are too widespread to be eliminated.  A former Member of Parliament Alireza Zakani recently disclosed that the government’s intelligence services frequently work with financially corrupt criminals to make money.
The Rouhani government, which has stayed silent in recent weeks, is itself an accomplice to corruption. The president’s brother Hossein Fereydoun has faced jail for involvement in corruption. Salar Aghakhan, an Iranian central bank official, reportedly left for Najaf in Iraq after being convicted of stealing over $100 million from state coffers and paying additional bribes to other bank officials. Ahmad Araghchi, a nephew of a senior Iranian diplomat and nuclear negotiator Abbas Araghchi, was able to leave Iran despite being convicted on serious corruption charges within the central bank.
At the top of these scandals sits a close Rouhani aide, Abdolnaser Hemmati, the Governor of the Central Bank of Iran. Hemmati revealed that 90 percent of the money raised from exports last year, some $30 billion to $40 billion, was taken out of Iran by the country’s so-called corruption mafia. Members of the mafia including several state bank directors who have bought homes abroad and wasted government money. Rouhani’s former Chief of the Central Bank of Iran, Valiollah Seif was banned from public office last year, following disclosures of his violation of financial rules.
Institutions close to the supreme leader that operate without transparency remain immune from corruption charges. This includes the judiciary and Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC). The revolutionary guards, both current and former officials, have not been charged with involvement in financial scandals but they have been and are involved in money laundering operations. The judiciary has dismissed its complicity in corruption but given the large number of accusations, it has become impossible to ignore. As a result, Ayatollah Khamenei, who is believed to possess wealth that exceeds hundreds of billions of dollars, has ordered an investigation into the judiciary.
The former Chief of the Judiciary and a close Khamenei aide, Sadegh Larijani’s executive director Akbar Tabari is caught in a heated corruption scandal. Tehran’s prosecutor Abbas Jafari Dowlatabadi is under investigation although he denies corruption charges.
Finger-pointing by the government’s cronies has led to a series of other arrests including that of Iran’s former head of privatization, Pouri Hosseini, and government officials who are accused of stealing some 40 percent of Iran’s National Development Fund, designated to help people in hard times. In addition, hardliner Ayatollah Mohammed Yazd has accused Sadeq Amoli Larijani, the Expediency Discernment Council’s Chief, of corruption. In response, Larijani accused Yazdi of being “rude” and “insulting him” as well as repeating lies against him. He denied rumors that he was planning to leave Iran due to accusations of financial corruption. Many believe this spat between two pillars of the government is due to them positioning themselves in an ‘early succession campaign’ for Iran’s top leadership, with accusations of corruption being used as a political tool to eliminate possible rivals. Khamenei has remained silent, indicating his approval of Yazdi’s accusations as a means to clear the path for possibly his son, Mojtaba to succeed him in the future.
The recent symbolic executions of criminals by the so-called “corruption courts” has led the public to believe  that only common criminals get hanged, while officials, their cronies, relatives, and children, get away. Hard currency injection into Iran’s economy to fight US sanctions has led to  a new wave of corruption, suggesting that the country’s economic woes stem mainly from local mismanagement rather than external factors, such as US sanctions.
But there are too many ambiguities and unresolved court cases, which in turn suggest that hidden corruption in Iran persists and goes hand-in-hand with state despotism to control the public’s opinion on the subject.

Editorial Team