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Free From Sanctions, Khamenei-Linked Company Now Thrives

Stock market employees work at Tehran's Stock Exchange, January 17, 2016

Iran's Ghadir Investment Company has signed an agreement with Russia's Zarubezhneft and the Turkish energy company Unit International to invest jointly in oil and gas projects in and outside of Iran.

The news agency of Iran's Oil Ministry, Shana, hailed the agreement, signed on August 7 in Moscow, as “a landmark deal” for being the first time an Iranian company had reached a trilateral investment agreement with foreign partners.

The three companies will have equal investment in the projects, with Ghadir in charge of leading the consortium, the report says.

This development is another indication that Ghadir, which apparently has ties to Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, has expanded rapidly since the nuclear deal with world powers in 2015.

Established in 1991 as a subsidiary of Iran’s state-owned Saderat Bank, Ghadir soon became a public joint-stock company and its ownership was “transferred” to the Pension Fund of Iran's Armed Forces, according to the company’s website.

Most likely, as the largely controlled economy works in Iran, one state-owned company was transferred to another entity, also controlled by a state or religious outfit.

With seven holdings and 140 subsidiaries, Ghadir is today one of the largest Iranian investment companies, operating in a wide range of sectors such as oil, gas, petrochemical, building construction, and mines.

Most interesting is its involvement with the oil sector and deals it has concluded with Iran’s Oil Ministry. No truly private company in Iran could have enough clout to get involved with the oil business. This is possible only if a company is state-owned or controlled by a powerful entity linked to the religious or military establishment.

In 2013, the U.S. Treasury Department identified Ghadir as a subsidiary of the “Execution of Imam Khomeini’s Order” (EIKO), a giant financial network controlled by Khamenei. Reuters estimated EIKO’s holdings in 2013 at about $95 billion. According to some estimates, Ghadir, with $2.07 billion, is one of 10 companies in Iran that possess one-third of the Tehran Stock Exchange’s total market capitalization.

In 2013, the U.S. Treasury Department identified Ghadir as a subsidiary of the “Execution of Imam Khomeini’s Order” (EIKO), a giant financial network controlled by Khamenei. Reuters estimated EIKO’s holdings in 2013 at about $95 billion.

U.S. Treasury Department added both entities, along with several other Iranian companies, to the nuclear sanctions list. A statement issued by the Treasury Department in June 2013 said, “the purpose of this network is to generate and control massive, off-the-books investments, shielded from the view of the Iranian people and international regulators.”

Some observers believed these entities were not sanctioned because of their role in Iran’s nuclear program, but for the purpose of putting direct pressure on Khamenei.

Even though Ghadir’s public record shows no clear evidence of ties to the supreme leader, a glance at the names of its high-ranking officials sheds more light on its possible true identity.

The company’s CEO, Gholamreza Soleimani, has served at EIKO as deputy of planning for five years. This links Ghadir to EIKO, which is controlled by the supreme leader’s office.

Ghadir’s head of the board of directors, Mahmoud Ahmad Pourdaryani, served for many years as a high-ranking member of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps.

According to U.S. law, American citizens and companies are still barred from conducting any business with Iran. But following the 2015 nuclear deal, the so-called secondary U.S. sanctions that were targeting non-U.S. entities, were lifted. It seems that Ghadir is one of the beneficiaries of the deal and on a fast track to becoming a player on the global market.

In August 2015, the company signed a 500 million euro contract with the engineering unit of Finmeccanica for the construction of a power plant in Iran. CEO Soleimani even announced in November 2016 that his company planned to gain a listing on the London Stock Exchange, a promise that so far has not been fulfilled.

As non-American firms from Asia and Europe seem ready to jump at the opportunity to do business with Iran, it is mostly state-controlled companies in Iran that most stand a chance to benefit. Some of these companies were under sanctions just two years ago, and now they are out of the woodworks and ready to make money with the mostly public wealth they control.

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    Mohammadreza Kazemi

    Mohammadreza Kazemi is an Iranian journalist and a former colleague at Radio Farda, who still occasionally contributes. He currently lives in the United States.