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Charity Denies Relation with 'Sultan of Tombs'

Iran-Graves belonging to pepople who died in recent protest
Iran-Graves belonging to pepople who died in recent protest

Following the arrest of sultans of hard currencies, gold coins, and embezzlement, Iran is tackling the case of "sultan of tombs."

Mohammad Norouzpour, the Director-General of the Islamic Republic's Endowment and Charity Organization (Awqaf), said that a suspect was involved in "brokering tombs," though "it is not yet clear how many graves he has sold."

Speaking to the Islamic Revolution Guards Corps (IRGC)-linked Fars news agency on Tuesday, Norouzpour said that Awqaf was "unaware" of the criminal's illegal dealings related to looting burial sites, and that the accused has been behind bars for some time.

On Sunday, local media published reports that the sultan of tombs, briefly identified with his initials as "SHA," had been arrested. The suspect, who admitted to illegally selling graves in multiple cemeteries, told the authorities that he used to sell the graves in coordination with Awqaf's directors and under their orders. He claimed that the Awqaf regional offices were aware of his deals, and that he sold the graves for 100 million (about $2400) to 550 million rials (roughly $13,000), based on prices approved by Awqaf.

Awqaf operates on a governmental budget of around 54 billion rials (US$2.7 million) but collects up to ten trillion rials (US$250 million) annually through its stewardship of thousands of properties, including cemeteries and Twelver-Shiite pilgrimage sites, known as "sacred shrines" in Iran.

Norouzpour confirmed that, during his two decades of activity, the suspect illegally received money for selling graves and deposited them in his"personal bank account. "He had a shop opposite Tehran's old cemetery, ibn Babawayh, for the past two decades, and used to let chairs, tents, sound equipment, etc. for funerals," Norouzpour said, adding, "in the meantime, he was involved in selling graves."

However, Norouzpour stopped short of explaining why Awqaf did not take action to stop the illegal deals over that two-decade period.

While Awqaf is known for managing religious sites, it also controls more than 1.5 million properties and businesses nationwide, including mosques, lucrative mines, and is increasingly notorious for controversial and even illegal natural resources acquisition.