In unprecedented remarks by a regime insider, reformist activist and veteran politician Behzad Nabavi has said four financial institutions linked to Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei control 60 percent of Iran's national wealth.
He has also expressed concern over the presence of "spies at the highest levels of the Islamic Republic," a remark unlikely to come from anyone linked to Iran's reform camp.
Nabavi in an interview with conservative website Alef in Tehran, published September 21 that 60 percent of Iran's national assets are held by the Executive Headquarters for the Imam's Decree (EHID), the holy Shrine of Imam Reza in Mashad (Astan-e Qods), and the Mostazafan Foundation which operate directly under Khamenei and his office, and the IRGC's Khatam ol-Anbia Headquarters which is indirectly supervised by Khamenei as the commander-in-chief of the Iranian armed forces.
These institutions operate outside the purview of the presidential administration and the Iranian Parliament (Majles), Nabavi told the website.
The EHID owns 95 billion dollars’ worth of confiscated real estate and other assets including several companies, according to a 2013 Reuters report. Mostazafan Foundation is a more or similar institution that owns tens of factories and scores of financial firms as well as numerous real estate holdings in various parts of Iran. Astan-e Qods, is one of the richest Iranian entities which owns vast farmlands and many factories and businesses and financial organizations. In one estimate the religious endowment owns 43 percent of real estate in the city of Mashhad.
Khatam ol-Anbia, is IRGC's financial wing which wins nearly all of state contracts meant to be given to the private sector and is active in all financial affairs from construction and oil industry to banking and film production.
No figures have been released about the financial activities and balance sheets of these mighty economic entities during the past four decades and the Assembly of Experts which is tasked with publishing their financial reports has never done so. The Rouhani administration has often complained that these institutions do not pay taxes although they make hefty profits.
Lack of transparency has led to widespread corruption and inefficiency in Iran's economy, which has burned through the country's vast oil income without sufficient job creation and anemic growth. Sanctions only make matters worse but the country suffers from structural problems.
The Reuters report cited statements by the EHID officials, reports by the Tehran Stock Exchange, company websites and information released by the U.S. Department of Treasury as the source for the figure about the HQ's wealth.
Speaking to Alef, Nabavi said that critics should not reduce the country's problem to the performance of the two major political factions, the reformists and the conservatives, adding that "Based on the Constitutional Law, the administration enjoys only 10 to 20 of its legal authority and should be held accountable proportionately."
Earlier, while complaining about his limited authority and other officials' intervention in executive affairs, President Hassan Rouhani had said: "What responsibility do you demand from someone who has no authority?"
Rouhani had complained about the limitations of his executive powers twice in May as well as at other times. Hardliners harshly criticized Rouhani for such remarks.
Judiciary Chief Ebrahim Raeesi criticized Rouhani in late June saying that Khamenei has vested a lot of authority in the joint meetings of the heads of the three branches of the government, so no official can complain about lack of power.
In the past two years, several influential regime insiders and former Khamenei supporters have come out questioning the essence of the current governing system in Iran, even calling for Khamenei to step down.
Meanwhile, Nabavi said that two of the aides of former Basij militia commander Mohammad Reza Naqdi were jailed on charges of spying for Israel and one of them was executed. Naqdi was later appointed as Deputy IRGC Commander for Coordination.
Nabavi said these were low-level spies, adding that he was concerned about the presence of spies at the highest levels of the Islamic Republic government. He reminded that the plot to bomb a gathering of Iranian opposition in Paris in July 2018 was simultaneous with Rouhani's visit to Europe in a goodwill mission.
He was alluding to one part of the Iranian government using any means to obstruct the activities of another part. Security and intelligence organizations, much like the economic behemoths also operate outside the purview of the presidential administration.
Nabavi warned that "infiltration" is a serious matter that needs to be addressed carefully.