An outspoken conservative legislator in Iran has lambasted the Islamic Republic government for wasting the national treasury by offering U.S. dollars to some companies at a preferential low rate in 2018.
Currently, one dollar is exchanged for more than 160,000 rials in the local markets, but the government offers a rate almost fourfold lower.
Based on the official rate of 42,000 rials for one dollar, the Islamic Republic government distributes billions of "cheap dollars" among local importers to buy essential goods from overseas. Many of these importers are politically well-connected individuals, local reports say.
A senior legislator, and member of the Iranian parliament's Planning, Budget and Economic Commission, Hossein Ali Haji Deligani, harshly criticized the government. "Ninety percent of the companies that received the (discounted) hard currencies were registered immediately before the announcement of the government's decision, and existed only on paper." He was referring to previous occasions when cheap dollars were doled out.
Hossein Ali Haji Deligani, who is notorious for not mincing his words, lamented that offering dollars based on the lower rate and the policy behind it had no outcome but the misappropriation of "national assets" and "wasting public money".
Haji Deligani, also a member of the Islamic Revolution Guards Corps (IRGC) and the ultraconservative Front of Islamic Revolution Stability (FIRS), asserted that President Rouhani and his First Deputy Es'haq Jahangiri should be held accountable for wasting millions of dollars of national assets.
After months of sharp falls in the value of the Iranian currency in 2018, Vice President Es'haq Jahangiri announced in March 2018 that the government set a fixed low rate for the dollar for businesses dealing with imports. Thousands of companies applied to receive the cheap dollars but then it was revealed many had imported luxury cars or other non-essential goods, or had imported nothing, pocketing the huge difference in exchange rates.
This decision was widely criticized and shelved in August 2018. Since then, only importers of essential goods can receive low-rate dollars and the process is supposedly controlled.
Several political figures in the Islamic Republic have estimated the damage caused by the earlier decision was $18 billion, and the Supreme Leader of the Islamic Republic Ali Khamenei, implicitly mentioned the same figure in one of his speeches.
Haji Deligani reiterated that ninety percent of the companies that received dollars on the official rate were registered only months before the government's decision, and were non-existent, but on paper.
Thus, Haji Deligani argued, "there seems to have been a hidden hand, at that critical juncture, busy in sweeping out the national treasury of hard currencies."
Earlier, on April 14, the Islamic Republic's Supreme Audit Court (SAC) director, Adel Azar, had affirmed that $4.8 billion on official rate has been distributed, but no goods and products have been imported.
However, Azar stopped short of naming the companies that received the missing dollars and did not mention what products were supposed to be imported with the money.
SAC's report on the government's budget disbursement has outraged President Hassan Rouhani's administration.
Meanwhile, the head of the country's Judiciary, mid-ranking cleric, Ebrahim Raeisi has ordered an official investigation into the case.
Nonetheless, as a rule, such investigations in the Islamic Republic die down without any decisive conclusion.