Shortly after reports surfaced of a cyberattack targeting 18 insurance companies in Iran, the Director-General of Iran’s Central Insurance Company found himself ousted from his position. However, within a regime that isn’t particularly known for its commitment to meritocracy, one must question whether this was the real reason for his removal.
In the aftermath of these reports, on Sunday, September 3, Majid Behzadpour, the Head of Iran’s Central Insurance Company (CIC), was relieved of his duties.
According to Iranian state media, a hacking group had infiltrated these insurance companies approximately 20 days ago, compromising their data and offering it for sale. It was reported that 115 million data records, including user information, were exposed to the hackers.
Following this breach, Majid Behzadpour’s removal and the appointment of Ali Ostad-Hashemi, previously Deputy Inspector-General of CIC, seemed like a logical response to the extensive cyberattack and its grave consequences for the public.
Nevertheless, recent news leaks to Iranian government-affiliated media outlets suggest that the entire hacking incident involving the insurance companies may have been a scripted scenario designed to facilitate the removal of the CIC Director-General and his replacement with Ostad-Hashemi.
The state-run Tejarat news wrote on September 5, “The peculiar claim of the dismissal of the CIC Chief following rumors of a data breach involving some policyholders is being raised. However, it’s important to clarify that this matter, regardless of its accuracy, has no direct connection with the CIC and has not been the responsibility of the Director-General.”
“The alignment of senior economic managers with the country’s major support and financial policies necessitates certain managerial changes and the utilization of the scientific capabilities of fresh and motivated personnel. What should garner the attention of the public is the appointment of a supervisory deputy as the Chief of the supervisory authority, which is regarded as a well-founded and solid reason for the satisfaction of the senior economic authorities with the supervisory performance of this organization,” the source added.
The apparent circumstances and suspicions of government manipulation have cast doubt on the authenticity of the insurance companies’ hack as the sole reason for Behzadpour’s ousting and Ostad-Hashemi’s appointment.
Private #insurance companies continue removing essential #medicines from coverage plans. These insurance companies are affiliated with the #IRGCterrorists or Institutions under Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei’s control.https://t.co/lEUkmJim2z
— NCRI-FAC (@iran_policy) April 29, 2023
First, questions arise as to why the official announcement from CIC was made nearly three weeks after the news of the insurance companies’ alleged hacking. Second, despite the CIC Organization’s claim that no data from their systems had been compromised, the rationale behind Behzadpour’s removal and Ostad-Hashemi’s appointment remains uncertain.
Ali Ostad-Hashemi, a close friend of Ebrahim Raisi’s Minister of Economy Ehsan Khandouzi, previously held positions as a board member and an auditing committee member in certain investment and leasing companies within the Iranian establishment. By mid-July, the State Audit Court, which is part of the regime’s parliament, announced that Ostad-Hashemi’s presence in the supervisory deputy position of Iran’s CIC was deemed illegal due to his dual employment.
However, a month later, he not only refused to step down from this position but also assumed the role of the head of Iran’s CIC following the fiasco of the hacking of 18 insurance companies.
It’s worth mentioning that Ali Ostad-Hashemi doesn’t possess a specific background or prior experience in insurance supervision. Nonetheless, his appointment as the Director-General of Iran’s CIC has raised queries regarding the criteria behind his selection.
Moreover, according to reports, the alleged hack of the insurance companies’ database was handled through a company called “Information Technology Experts,” which has not even received validation from the Central Bank of Iran.
On the other hand, Majid Mashalchi Firouzabadi, Deputy Head of Central Insurance, stated that the stolen information from policyholders cannot be misused. This has led to suspicions that the hack, whether real or staged, served as a pretext for installing a close associate of Raisi’s government as the head of Iran’s Central Insurance Company.
Considering the trend of consolidation of power in Iran, from the highest level of government and provincial governors to the extent of replacing university professors with unqualified regime insiders, one has to wonder if the change in CIC’s leadership wouldn’t lead to major shifts in Iran’s insurance policies where public deprivation be offered as a solution for the Raisi government to compensate its budget deficit.