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‘You Should Pay Tax, Too!’ Rouhani’s Challenger Told

Ebrahim Raisi, the custodian of Astan Quds Razavi, a main challenger to Hassan Rouhani in Presidential election.

A government spokesman has told one of the presidential candidates in the upcoming May 19 election that the wealthy foundation he heads must also pay taxes.

“Astan Quds Razavi is also bound to pay tax”, government’s spokesman, Mohammad-Baqer Nobakht was addressing Ebrahim Raesi, a mid-ranking cleric who is the custodian of Astan Quds Razavi religious foundation as well as being the main challenger to incumbent President Hassan Rouhani. Nobakht added, “Sir! you should declare how much tax you have paid, up to now.”

“Astan-e Quds-e Razavi is also bound to pay tax,” he said. “Sir! you should declare how much tax you have paid, up to now.”

Raeisi, appointed to his post by Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, has been custodian of the Astan for more than a year. It is an autonomous institution based in the holy city of Mashhad, where Shi’a’s eighth Imam, Ali bin Moussa al Reza is buried. The foundation’s main resource is endowments. Although there are no fully reliable numbers as to its its income, the last published official figure from 2009 puts Astan’s annual revenue close to $150 million.

Astan, like many other foundations run directly under the supreme leader’s supervision, has always been exempt from paying tax. This is the first time an Iranian official figure has suggested taxing a state-owned foundation.

“Those who were exempted from paying tax, including Astan, are now bound to pay tax based on the Sixth National Development Plan,” Nobakht said.

Previously, Raeisi had declared that the foundation, under his supervision, has paid its due taxes “many times over.”

“According to an edict issued by the founder of the Islamic Republic, Imam

Khomeini, Astan is a tax-exempt legal entity. Nevertheless, I wrote a letter to Khamenei seeking his guideline on this issue. Based on the supposition that Astan pays its due VAT and judicial taxes, His Eminence verified Imam’s blessed viewpoint,” Raesi said. “Currently, we are paying our due VAT, as everybody else does and, of course, our handouts to the poor are three to four times more than our tax relief.”

He promised to publicly present the facts and figures concerning the case in “the near future.”

Nobakht responded: “The government’s income is limited to selling oil and receiving tax. I ask the presidential candidate to declare the amount of tax he has paid.”

Alongside eight other wealthy such foundations, Astan is an economic and financial empire not only exempted from paying taxes but also beyond any oversight. These foundations are run under the direct supervision of the supreme leader and are only accountable to him.

Yet, in a recent presidential campaign speech, Raeisi criticized Rouhani’s Cabinet for “only taxing public-sector employees while some of the wealthy people evade taxation.”

Responding to his challenger, Rouhani said on May 7: “They demand taxation but none of them asks whether the entities under their management have ever paid any tax?”

The number of Iranians eligible to vote in May 19’s election is reportedly more than 56 million.

“All Iranians born before or on May 19, 1999, can cast their ballots in the upcoming polls,” Tasnim News Agency quoted the head of the Interior Ministry Elections Committee, Ali Asghar Ahmadi, as saying.

According to the election authorities, Iranian nationals residing abroad can also vote in more than 140 countries.

The incumbent’s main challengers are Raisi and Tehran Mayor Mohammad Bagher Ghalibaf. Both challengers belong to the conservative ruling camp of Iran, and some analysts expect one to withdraw from the race in favor of the other. If that happened, the incumbent’s re-election would face a more serious challenge.

Rouhani says women’s participation at polling stations will guarantee his victory.

“We have no more than one duty: Going to the polling stations. If all come to the scene, we will be victorious,” he said.

Some Iranians are arguing that people should not participate in this election because it makes little difference who is elected president when major institutions, the armed forces, and key ministries, as well as the judiciary, remain under Khamenei’s control.