KHAMENEI’S VAST EMPIRE
by Robert Tait, National Post (from the Daily Telegraph), Nov. 13, 2013
Ayatollah controls businesses worth about $95B
‘Why are you wearing jeans? Why are your lips red?’ — Memo to bank employees following investment by Iranian state-controlled company
Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, Iran’s supreme leader, has built a state-run business empire so vast it includes a factory producing contraceptive pills — despite his urging Iranians to forsake birth control and have more babies.
His growing dominance over the national economy is laid bare in a report that reveals Iran’s top cleric and most powerful political figure is in command of enterprises worth about $95-billion.
This follows a six-month investigation by Reuters, which reported a sprawling network of companies and properties was at the ayatollah’s disposal, thanks to his control of a state organization known as SETAD, or the Headquarters for Executing the Order of the Imam.
This was originally established for charitable purposes, to provide revenues to help the poor, but has been steadily built up over the years, boosted by acquisitions that have included property confiscated from religious minorities, political opponents and Iranian expatriates.
Now Ayatollah Khamenei has expanded SETAD into a “financial juggernaut” he has used to cement his 24-year grip on power, Reuters says. It controls 37 companies reaching into every corner of the Iranian economy.
But the conservative leader’s transformation into an economic powerhouse also threatens to undermine his stated goal of presiding over a rapid rise in Iran’s population, the investigation found.
In a glaring contradiction, ATI Pharmed, a pharmaceutical company run by SETAD’s charitable foundation, Barakat, embarked on a joint venture in May with a Swiss company, the Geneva-based Stragen Pharma, that included plans to produce oral contraceptives.
The initiative, of which the Iranian company owns 66%, jars with Ayatollah Khamenei’s earlier edict to the health ministry to scrap Iran’s liberal birth control policy in an effort to raise the population — now about 75 million — to 200 million.
The ayatollah’s economic encroachment also had a baleful effect on workplaces.
Employees at Parsian Bank, a private bank with more than 100 branches known for its liberal dress codes, experienced a culture shock when SETAD invested in it in 2006.
Male staff were banned from wearing ties, while female employees received warning letters asking, “Why are you wearing jeans? Why are your lips red?”