The original version of this article was written for the Persian website of Radio Farda by Youhanna Najdi, a political analyst and Iran specialist living in Germany. The English version was augmented and edited by Maryam Sinaiee who is a British-Iranian journalist and political analyst.
The make-up of the board of directors of Razavi Economic Organization (REO), the economic arm of a religious foundation reflects the fact that Iran’s Supreme Leader, Revolutionary Guards (IRGC) and the Intelligence Ministry jointly control the economic activities of this shady organization.
In an interview with Alef news website in September 2019 Behzad Nabavi, a prominent reformist politician and former lawmaker said four entities, namely the Executive Headquarters of Imam's Directive, Khatam al-Anbia Headquarters, Astan-e Qods-e Razavi and Mostazafan Foundation control 60 percent of the Iranian economy. According to Nabavi the Iran’s executive and legislative powers have no control over these entities which are under the direct supervision of Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei.
The Razavi Economic Organization is the source of huge funds at Khamenei's disposal. Astan-e Qods-e Razavi, like several other foundations such as the Martyrs Foundation, Housing Foundation and Mostazafan Foundation, has been exempted from paying tax by Khamenei's decrees. The revenues of these entities are not subject to auditing by any government body.
Astan-e Qods-e Razavi (AQR)
Astan-e Qods-e Razavi is the administrative organization which manages the Shrine of Imam Reza (the 8th Imam of Twelver Shiites) and all the various charities and organizations affiliated with it as well as the endowments to the Shrine. The Astan-e Qods-e Razavi receives a budget from the government despite being exempt from paying tax.
The Shrine of Imam Reza in the northwestern city of Mashhad has a nearly 1200-year history. Throughout centuries huge endowments have been made to the Shrine, making AQR the biggest landowner in the east and probably all of Iran. More than 40 percent of land in the city of Mashhad, Iran's second most populous city, is owned by AQR which owns vast endowed properties throughout the rest of the country too.
From the 16th century when the Safavid dynasty made Shiism Iran's official religion to the end of the Pahlavi rule in 1979, the custodian of Astan-e Qods was always appointed by the king. After the Islamic Revolution the appointment of the custodian of AQR became one of the special powers given to the Supreme Leader of the country.
In April 2019 Ahmad Marvi, a cleric who has been one of Khamenei's associates for more than 50 years, was appointed by him as the Custodian of Astan-e Qods-e Razavi. Khamenei appointed the previous custodian, Ebrahim Raeesi as Iran's new Chief Justice.
Razavi Economic Organization (REO)
The economic activities of Astan-e Qods-e Razavi (AQR) are carried out by its economic arm, namely, the Razavi Economic Organization (REO), which was established in 1998 to "procure and secure financial resources required for carrying out Astan-e Qods-e Razavi's social and cultural tasks". The holdings owned by AQR are currently active in various sectors of the Iranian economy including pharmaceuticals, food industries, carpet and textile production, construction, agriculture, oil and gas, information technology as well as finance and investment.
According to its website the Razavi Economic Organization, which calls itself the largest holding in eastern Iran, manages "more than 70 companies and institutions in which it holds shares both above and below 50 percent". The Razavi Economic Organization claims that more than 8,000 people are directly or indirectly employed by it.
The estimated value of Astan-e Qods-e Razavi's lands is around 20 billion dollars. According to some reports Astan-e Qods has 320,000 tenants. Annually about 20 million pilgrims visit the shrine. Many pilgrims use the hotels, restaurants and shopd owned by the Astan-e Qods. It is estimated that donations by pilgrims to the Shrine of Imam Reza amount to $200 million a year.
Holdings And Other Belongings of The Razavi Economic Organization
According to its website the REO owns seven holdings, namely, Omran Holding (construction and development), Salamat va Daroo Holding (pharmaceutical), Keshavarzi, Damparvari va Sanaye Tabdili (agriculture and food processing), Sanat Holding (car manufacturing and textile industry), Khadamat-e Mali (finance) and Enerzhi Holding (energy) as well as the Sarakhs Special Economic Zone (SEZ) in north western.
Who Runs The Razavi Economic Organization?
All key figures running REO have close ties with the Revolutionary Guards, the Intelligence Ministry, and the Office of the Supreme Leader.
Masoud Mir-Kazemi who heads the Board of Directors of REO started his career as a member of the revolution committees and later joined the Revolutionary Guards. Later, he was Minister of Commerce in Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's government from 2005 to 2009 and Minister of Petroleum from 2009 to 2011. He held various positions in IRGC such as director of the Guards' Fundamental Research Center.
Rahbar who has a Ph.D. in Theoretical Economics served as Chancellor of Tehran University for six years during Ahmadinejad's presidency. He is mostly known for the harsh suppression of students and professors during his tenure in Tehran University. Rahbar hails from the Intelligence Ministry where he served as the Economic Deputy of the Intelligence Minister Ali Yunesi (1999 to 2002) and Chancellor of the Intelligence Ministry's University of Intelligence and National Security (2002-2003).
Seyed Reza Fatemi-Amin
Fatemi-Amin is currently the Managing Director of the REO. He is one of the trusted men of the hardliner Ebrahim Raeesi, but rarely makes political statements himself. In January 2018 he replaced Morteza Bakhtiari, the current Chairman of the Consultative Assembly of REO and served in that position until May 2019.
Attarzadeh has a background in IRGC. He is considered one of the founders of Khatam al-Anbia Headquarters, the economic arm of the military force. He served as Deputy Energy Minister during Ahmadinejad's presidency.
Aliabadi's main field of expertise is energy. Since 2007 he has served as the Managing Director of MAPNA Group, a conglomerate of companies involved in development and execution of power plants, oil and gas, railway transportation and other industrial projects and manufacturing equipment such as gas and steam turbines. MAPNA is one of Iran's largest contractors which has carried out various projects in Iraq and Syria alongside Khatam al-Anbia Headquarters.
Farzin is currently also the Chairman of Board of Directors of Karafarin Bank. The main shareholders of Karafarin Bank are companies in which the entities under the Supreme Leader's supervision such as the Executive Headquarters of Imam's Decree own the majority of shares. Farzin served as Deputy Minister of Economy during Ahmadinejad's presidency and was in charge of the Subsidy Reform Plan Headquarters of the ministry. He was appointed as the CEO of Iran's National Development Fund by Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in 2012. There was a lot of controversy about illegal government withdrawals from the Fund during Ahmadinejad's presidency.
Peyghami is an economist and specializes in theorizing Khamenei's economic key words such as "Resistance Economy" which he has expanded and theorized in a book of the same name.
Seyed Morteza Bakhtiari
Bakhtiari who was appointed as the Head of Imam Khomeini Relief Committee by Khamenei's decree on July 22, 2019 currently heads the Consultative Assembly of the REO.
The name of Seyed Morteza Bakhtiari, the Chairman of the REO's General Assembly, is closely associated with prisons and torture of political prisoners. Bakhtiari headed the Prisons Organization during the presidency of the reformist Mohammad Khatami. He quickly climbed in rank during Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's presidency and was eventually appointed as Justice Minister.
Bakhtiari, then the Minister of Justice, played an important role in the suppression of protesters and political prisoners following the disputed 2009 election which put Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in office. He was sanctioned by the EU in 2011 for human rights abuses.
The high-level managers of other entities under Khamenei's control such as the Executive Headquarters of Imam's Directive, the Islamic Propaganda Organization and Mostazafan Foundation is, come from similar backgrounds, ensuring that the interests of the clerical establishment, security and military bodies' are always taken into account.