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Billions Embezzled By Iranian Officials Since The 1990s

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The scale of the latest financial corruption case in Iran has been so huge that officials and media see no harm in revealing and discussing previous cases.

Faraz daily and Rouydad24 are only two of the well-informed and well-connected Iranian news websites that have offered timelines and background on major cases of financial corruption in Iran since 1979.

However, both websites have carefully stated that there were no instances of corruption during Prime Minister Mir-Hossein Mousavi’s tenure in the 1980s. This cautious stance is understandable because Mousavi served as the Prime Minister under President Ali Khamenei from 1981 to 1989. Khamenei has held the position of Iran’s Supreme Leader for more than three decades, and he has been officially portrayed as being as pure as saints and angels. Consequently, it may seem inconceivable for corruption to have occurred under his leadership. Nonetheless, as the Supreme Leader, he bears ultimate responsibility for any corruption within his regime and should be held accountable for it.

Rouydad24 has listed 12 major cases of financial corruption with a total value of $94.3 billion. Just to keep the list short, Rouydad did not cover embezzlements under $500 million. According to Rouydad, there is at least one court hearing about a corruption case in Iran every month.

An infographic representing large-scale corruption cases in Iran

The total value of the 12 cases covered by Rouydad24 is twice as much as the total budget of all of Iran’s government-owned companies in 2021. The most important characteristic of these cases (from 2011 to 2023) is lack of transparency. The website wrote that no one knows what became of the case involving Former President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s vice president and the case involving former President Hassan Rouhani’s brother.

Just to make the cases more ambiguous, the Iranian judiciary mentions the amount of money involved in each case in Iranian currency rial, or in US dollars or in Euros. Sometimes there is a mixture of these currencies only to make it worse for journalists and their readers.

The biggest cases among the 12, are the $59 billion embezzlement in Padideh Company (2013), the $11 billion case at the Petrochemical Industries (2019), the 5.3 billion Tat Bank case (2018), and the $3.3 billion corruption case in Debsh Tea Company (2023).

According to Rouydad24, most of these cases are linked to the international sanctions against Iran. For instance, the Petrochemical Industries case is about individuals and companies who circumvented the sanctions on behalf of the Iranian government, but pocketed hundreds of millions of dollars.

The website noted that there is no difference between successive Iranian governments in the past two decades as these cases date back to the governments of Presidents Ahmadinejad, Hassan Rouhani and Ebrahim Raisi. A majority of those involved in these have fled the country.

According to Faraz Daily, which offers different figures, the extent of embezzlements under Prime Minister Mousavi (President Khamenei) was zero, while $3.5 million dollars was embezzled under President Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, $5 billion under President Mohammad Khatami, $16.7 billion under President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, $2.7 million under President Hassan Rouhani, and $3.3 billion under President Ebrahim Raisi.

Interestingly, the cases mentioned by Faraz Daily, which is closer to the Iranian regime, add up to just over $20 billion, that is more than $70 billion less than the amount quoted by Rouydad for a shorter period of time.

In a report by Khabar Online shedding light on corruption and financial irregularities during President Ahmadinejad’s tenure, Iran’s former ambassador to Baku, Afshar Soleimani, has revealed shocking details. According to Soleimani, Ahmadinejad and his associate, Sadeq Mahsouli (currently the leader of the ultraconservative Paydari party), were allegedly transporting dollars acquired from oil swaps with the Republic of Azerbaijan in suitcases. Furthermore, Soleimani asserted that approximately 90 percent of Mahsouli’s fabled wealth can be traced back to his involvement in the oil swap project.