A 50-minute leaked audiotape of a conversation between two senior commanders of the Iranian regime’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) in 2018 was a damning revelation about the regime’s massive institutionalized corruption.
Regime officials initially tried to cover up or cast doubt on the authenticity of the audio file, calling it fake and fabricated. In the end, however, the IRGC was forced to officially confirm the authenticity of the file. Kayhan daily, the mouthpiece of regime supreme leader Ali Khamenei, claimed on February 14 that the file proved “the level of responsibility and accountability of Revolutionary Guards’ officials.”
In the tape, Mohammad Ali Jafari, then-commander of the IRGC, is heard talking to the organization’s financial chief, Brigadier General Sadeq Zolqadrnia. They discussed a 2017 corruption case involving a holding company called “Yas” (jasmine). Yas holding was one of the IRGC’s front companies that operated dozens of subsidiaries but was shut down following the revelation of dozens of corruption cases in 2017.
Zolqadrnia accuses Mohammad Bagher Ghalibaf, then-mayor of Tehran and current Parliament Speaker, IRGC Coordination Deputy Jamaloddin Aberoumand, and Chief of the IRGC Intelligence Organization Hossein Taeb, as well as IRGC-Quds Force’s eliminated commander Qassem Soleimani, of covering up embezzlements worth up to 80,000 billion rials. The amount is roughly equivalent to $3 billion based on the free market rate at the time. Yas Holding belonged to the IRGC’s Cooperative Foundation, a powerful organization that controls many components of the country’s financial resources.
According to Zolqadrnia, Ghalibaf suggested forging a false contract worth 80,000 billion rials. He added: “I told him [Ghalibaf] that this would be a crime. It will harm me; it will harm Jafari; I will not sign it.”
Jafari tells Zolqadrnia that Soleimani and Ghalibaf were “very upset” by Zolqadrnia’s actions. While this audio file makes significant revelations, it is necessary to shed light on some dark aspects of the ruling theocracy’s endemic corruption.
This massive corruption case occurred under the supervision of Ali Khamenei. Days after the audio file was leaked, Khamenei rushed to the scene to defend his corrupt IRGC commanders. “The enemy spends billions of dollars in their think tanks for slander and lies against the Islamic Republic. One day they slander the parliament, one day they slander the Guardian Council, and today it is the turn of the IRGC and martyr Soleimani,” he said on February 17.
But who are these IRGC commanders? What was the Yas Holding? And why does the regime try to cover up and whitewash this clear crime? Would that not implicate top officials like Khamenei himself? These are the questions we intend to answer in this report.
Who is Mohammad Bagher Ghalibaf?
Mohammad Bagher Ghalibaf, the regime’s current parliament speaker, is one of the most corrupt IRGC commanders. While serving as Tehran’s mayor for 12 years, he used every opportunity to steal from public funds.
The daily Sharq, affiliated with Hassan Rouhani’s faction, revealed on May 10, 2017: “Ghalibaf really wants to discredit the government. His aim is clear: taking the presidency. But how clean is Ghalibaf himself? The most important indicator is the speech of Valiollah Seif, head of the Central Bank. He talked about the Tehran municipality’s 60 trillion rial debt to the banking sector. A gift of 3.5 trillion rials to the deputy mayor is equal to 31 years’ worth of salary of average workers, which according to the latest decisions of the Labor Ministry, was increased only to 9.4 million rials. This case also had a sad ending and was removed from the parliament’s agenda for investigation. Apparently, in addition to the deputy mayor, according to published statistics, the house of the mayor himself is worth over 200 million rials per square meter.”
Majid Farahani, head of Tehran’s municipal budget committee, revealed a small part of Ghalibaf’s thefts during his tenure as the mayor of Tehran. He told the state-run ISNA news agency on January 15, 2018: “We see a severe financial and commercial turmoil in the municipality.
“When we deduct the total revenues from the total costs incurred, we reach a gap of 200 trillion rials during the last 12 years. We don’t know where these 200 trillion rials have disappeared, and this missing figure must be discovered. Nowhere is it stated where these 200 trillion rials have gone. … Based on reports submitted by the selected auditor of the council, the municipality’s revenue in 2016 was about 227 trillion rials. Still, in the reports the mayor submitted, the municipality’s revenue was indicated to be about 211.3 trillion rials. There is a difference of 14 trillion rials between the two reports, and the reason is unclear,” he added.
Since the onset of the clerical regime, Ghalibaf has played an active role in the suppression of the MEK, protests in Tehran, and the people of Kurdistan. He was actively involved in the unpatriotic war with Iraq. According to the regime’s media and agencies, during his 12-year tenure as the Mayor of Tehran, he stole and embezzled billions of dollars.
In 1983, during the unpatriotic war, he was appointed commander of the 5th Nasr Division and sent thousands of children and students to minefields.
In 1987, he was appointed as the commander of the Najaf base in Kermanshah, in 1988 as the commander of the 3rd region of the IRGC, and in 1989 as the commander of the 68th Karbala Division. Shortly thereafter, he was appointed as the Chief of Staff of the IRGC Ground Forces. In 1994, he succeeded the IRGC Basij Command and set up a Basij intelligence service to arrest and suppress the opposition. Subsequently, he was appointed commander of the IRGC’s Khatam al-Anbiya Garrison, one of the largest economic conglomerates of the clerical regime. In 1997, Khamenei appointed him as the Air Force Commander. In that capacity, he increased the IRGC’s missile units from three to five brigades.
In July 1999, despite being IRGC’s Air Force commander, he personally took part in the suppression of the students’ protests. In 2013, as a Presidential candidate, he said in this regard, “When the 1999 incident occurred at universities’ dormitories, Mr. Soleimani (i.e., IRGC commander Qassem Soleimani) and I wrote that letter (to the President). When students began to march on Khamenei’s office, I was the IRGC’s Air Force commander. My picture on a motorcycle while carrying a big stick is available. I was with Hossein Khaleqi, with whom we were on the street to quell the protests. Wherever necessary, we come to the street and beat (people) with sticks.
“We are among those who wielded their sticks. It is an honor that in 1980, we were wielding sticks against Massoud Rajavi (the Iranian Resistance’s Leader). We confronted his supporters in the streets and universities. We were the men of (Mohammad Hossein) Beheshti. Since then, we wielded our sticks, as necessary. I did not say I am the Air Force Commander and that I should not be in the street; that as a commander, I should not be in the street.”
In 2,000, Ghalibaf was appointed as the commander of the State Security Force (SSF) and set up a suppressive police unit 110. In September 2002, he implemented the plan for moral security. In a meeting at the National Security Council, during student protests in 2003, he said, “As the SSF commander, I will personally crush and quell them.”
Here is a chronology about Ghalibaf’s background:
- 1987 – Deputy Commander of the IRGC Moghadam base in western Iran;
- 1987 – Commander of IRGC Najaf base in Kermanshah;
- 1988 – Commander of the country’s third District: During this period, Ghalibaf played a crucial role in suppressing the people of the country’s northern provinces, including Gilan and Mazandaran;
- 1989 – Commander of Karbala 25 Brigade in Mazandaran province;
- 1990 – Chief of Staff of IRGC ground forces;
- 1991 – Deputy Coordinator of the Joint Staff of the IRGC;
- 1994 – Deputy Commander-in-Chief of the IRGC at the Khatam al-Anbiya Construction Garrison;
- 1994 – Deputy commander of Bassij forces;
- 1997 – Deputy Commander of IRGC Air Force;
- 1997 – Commander of the IRGC Air Force; and
- 2000 – Commander of State Security Force
Who is Zolghadrnia, a whistleblower or another corrupt IRGC commander?
Sadeq Zolgharnia, aka Sadeq Gol-o-Sonbol, was the IRGC Deputy Commander for Economic Affairs. Before the leaked audio file, he was not publicly known. He is from Shiraz and joined the IRGC in the early 1980s. He played an important role in cracking down on political dissidents in Shiraz. He had also served as the head of the regime’s Ministry of Defense Information Protection Organization.
Who is Jamal Aberoumand?
IRGC Brigadier General Jamal Aberoumand was not a known figure. While he has little to no combat experience, he rose through the ranks of the IRGC and soon acquired the position of Deputy Coordinator of the Revolutionary Guards.
He was one of the IRGC’s logistics commanders during the Iran-Iraq war and worked under Mohsen Rafiqdoost, then Minister of the Revolutionary Guards. Rafiqdoost has named “Akbar Ghamkhar”, “Mahmoud Ahmadpour” and Aberoumand as his top commanders. They were involved in installing a floating bridge for Operation Valfajr 8. “In terms of logistics, we were more in touch with Mr. Aberoumand,” said Fathullah Mohammadi, one of the commanders of the Noah Nabi base and commander of the IRGC’s second naval zone.
According to Rafiqdoost, in 1989, as the head of the Foundation for the Underprivileged and Veterans, he told Ali Khamenei that 3,000 of the foundation’s properties were in the hands of the Revolutionary Guards and the government, and Aberoumand was selected to settle this issue.
Aberoumand had a close relationship with Qassem Soleimani and facilitated the funding of terrorist operations conducted by the regime’s terror mastermind. In the leaked audio file, Jafari says that Soleimani was “upset” with the way Aberoumand and Yas Holding were treated. It is worth noting that in 2018, when Soleimani went to the regime’s parliament, Aberoumand accompanied him.
According to Sadeq Zolghadrnia, a meeting was held with Qassem Soleimani and Aberoumand, and they agreed to pay back 17,000 billion rials. Abroumand intended to pay this money through the IRGC Cooperative Foundation, which Jafari said was not in their interest. Aberoumand was the IRGC’s then-deputy coordinator and the chairman of the board of directors of the IRGC Cooperative Foundation.
Aberoumand also had a close relationship with Ghalibaf and was his assistant. Also, after Ghalibaf became parliament speaker, it was rumored that Aberoumand would become Tehran’s mayor. Jamal Aberoumand’s presence is not limited to the parliament, and he has other positions; For example, he has been appointed as the chairman of the board of directors of the Ehsan Foundation, affiliated with the Imam Khomeini’s Executive Order Foundations (EIKO), and a member of the Jihad Water Supply Council of the Ministry of Energy. EIKO is one of Iran’s largest conglomerates and is under Khamenei’s supervision.
Aberoumand holds these positions even though he is publicly known for his role in the Yas Holding embezzlements.
What Was Yas Holding?
According to the state-run Mashreq News on February 14, 2022, Yas holding was “created amid the Quds Force’s operations in Syria again ISIS. The company was to provide the necessary financial resources to support the Quds Force through the implementation of development projects.”
In his memoirs, Mohammad Sarafraz, a former head of the state-run radio and TV broadcaster, gives many details about the theft and backdoor deals of the IRGC mafia in Iran, particularly when it comes to Yas Holding.
“These [TV commercial advertisements] were the focal point of pressure on the organization [IRIB]. We decided to hold an auction and tender offer. It was welcomed initially, but Mr. Aberoumand and Mr. Taeb from the IRGC came and said that we were willing to help, and it was decided that their representatives negotiate with us. There was a meeting at the IRGC-owned Yas Holding. Mr. Mehrdadi, then-CEO of the Yas Holding, and Mr. Babolzadeh, the CEO of IRGC-owned Dana, Seyyed Hadi Razavi, and several others were present at the meeting. From the organization, Messrs. Kardar and Velayati were present. According to the organization’s representatives, in that meeting, the first set those two consortiums to participate in the tender. But they suddenly backtracked and informally pledged through different channels that they would bring about the failure of the auction and change the head of the organization.”
Yas Holding had dozens of subsidiaries and closely worked with the IRGC’s Khatam al-Anbiya Headquarters. Khatam al-Anbiya is Iran’s largest construction company and private contractor. It is controlled by the IRGC.
Rasatejarat company was one of Yas holding’s companies. According to the state-run Shoaar-e Sal website, on April 7, 2021, “Mahmoud Seif or Mohsen Sajjadinia and Sardar Mehrdadi, the first and fourth defendants in the corruption case at Yas Holding, were turned into the main members of this holding by Sardar Jamal Aberoumand. They operated Rasa Tejarat Mobin and 140 other companies and took over Yas Holding’s financial turnover.”
On May 12, 2021, the state-run Sobh-e Tehran published part of a report by Hassan Moghimi, one of the experts of Tehran City Council, regarding the Rasatejarat company. Parts of this report are as follows:
“Hassan Moghimi, one of the experts of Tehran City Council in investigating the case of Rasatejarat, pointed out that the discussion between Rasatejarat and the IRGC Cooperative Foundation started in 2009 with two financing agreements, Finance 1 in 2009 and Finance 2 in 2013. Finance 1 will be implemented with the IRGC Cooperative Foundation, and the Khatam al-Anbiya was also selected as a contractor.”
“The first financing contract will increase by 20,000 billion rials, to 26,000 billion rials, which Ghalibaf’s managers believed was a memorandum. But who was aware?” Moghimi added that he acknowledges that Khatam HQ received more than 9,000 billion rials from the municipality, adding, “The [embezzlement] during Finance 1 continued with higher intensity in Finance 2.”
“Unfortunately, in 2013 and 2014, something happened at the IRGC Cooperative Foundation, resulting in the formation of the Yas Holding Complex, which covered military banks and sent financial resources there without reaching the municipality,” Moghimi said, adding, “In 2018, an investigation began. At the beginning of 2018, Rasatejarat company was shown to be a creditor of 1,800 billion rials. It was later determined the company owed 60,000 billion rials. Many resources from the economic sector of the IRGC along with the municipality of Tehran were lost in these contracts.”
“In February 2020, we found that the documents indicated that 129,000 billion rials of Tehran Municipality resources had been transferred to the IRGC [Yas] Holding, of which only 32,000 billion rials had been spent. The rest was given to an institution that had nothing to do with Tehran Municipality,” Moghimi acknowledges.
“On August 26, 2018, in a meeting with Afshani, then-Mayor of Tehran, he acknowledged ordering Isa Sharifi and other managers to make some purchases for the municipality worth of 37,000 rials.”
While acknowledging that parts of the lands Sharifi purchased belonged to the municipality, Moghimi said, “They sold a property worth 1,700 billion rials at 10,000 billion rials to the municipality through Yas Holding.”
Isa Sharifi, the second defendant in this corruption case, sentenced to 20 years in prison, was Ghalibaf’s deputy. Sharifi gained his reputation in the early 2000s as an urban manager, but he was one of the IRGC’s Aerospace commanders during the Iran-Iraq war. State-run media in Iran refer to him as an “IRGC brigadier general.” Some of Sharifi’s accusations are connected with the “Yas Holding,” which is one of the subcategories of the IRGC Cooperative Foundation, and this institution’s 40-trillion-rials debt to Tehran’s municipality.
Yet, as Moghimi acknowledges, “17,000 billion rials of the IRGC Cooperative Foundation’s debt, which was mentioned in the audit report of the Municipal Property Organization for 2015, has been eliminated in the 2016 report with a stroke of a pen!”
Khatam al-Anbiya, another Beneficiary of Construction Projects
On July 8, 2018, a few months before IRGC shut down Yas Holding under public opinion pressure, the state-run Mehr News Agency reported that Khatam al-Anbiya HQ will take over Tehran municipality’s projects.
According to Mehr, Gholamreza Ansari, a member of Tehran’s city council, acknowledges: “On May 22 of this year, the Municipality of Tehran signed a 200,000 billion rial Memorandum of Understanding with the Khatam al-Anbiya to carry out most of the city’s development projects, or some of these projects. The memorandum was signed on May 22 this year, and the members of Tehran’s city council were unaware of it and were informed about it through the media yesterday.”
In the reports related to the corruption case of the Revolutionary Guards, the issue of Yas Holding is mentioned while the problem of Thamen Institute is less discussed. In the first minutes of the leaked audio file, Zolqadrnia talks about “Isa,” and Jafari thinks he is referring to “Isa Sharifi.” Zolqadrnia says that he means “Isa Rezaei,” the chairman of the board of directors of Thamen Credit Institute.
Issa Rezaei had been the CEO of Kowsar Credit Institution since 2011 and resigned in 2018. He was also the chairman of Thamen Credit Institution. In 2017, rumors about Thamen Institute’s bankruptcy emerged. But Isa Rezaei assured the people not to worry about their deposits. Finally, on June 20, the Central Bank’s Deputy Supervisor approved negotiations between Kowsar Credit Institution and the shareholders of Thamen and Mehraghtesad. Thus, it was confirmed that Thamen Institution had devoured people’s belongings.
In 2020, Rezaei was mentioned when Tehran launched the Etka chain store in Venezuela. The Wall Street Journal reported that the Revolutionary Guards were laundering money under the guise of food sales.
He has held dozens of financial positions in the Revolutionary Guards; Including the financial director of the Khatam al-Anbiya and the legal inspector of the audit institute of the Revolutionary Guards Cooperative Foundation.
IRGC Cooperative Foundation
The Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps Cooperative Foundation (Bonyad Taavon Sepah) is regarded as the most powerful financial institution in Iran. Article 4 of this so-called “foundation” charter states, “The initial investment in the foundation at the time of its founding was ten million rials, contributed by the Supreme Leader.” Article 23 says, “All of the funds and assets of the foundation belong to His Excellency the Supreme Leader. In case of its dissolution, after settling all debts, all of the properties and assets will be handed over to His Excellency.”
The U.S. Treasury Department announced in December 2010 that according to Executive Order (E.O.) 13382 – an authority aimed at freezing the assets of proliferators of weapons of mass destruction – Bonyad Taavon Sepah had been designated for providing services to the IRGC. The foundation is one of the five largest economic powerhouses in the country.
Khatam al-Anbiya Construction Headquarters
The Khatam al-Anbiya Construction Headquarters is part of the IRGC. It began as a contractor of industrial and construction projects in 1989. In its charter, the most important goal of the complex is to “efficiently utilize the available construction and economic resources, capacities and talents of the IRGC to continue the Islamic Revolution.”
Khatam is the largest contractor for government projects. It has 5,000 subcontractors and about 135,000 employees. The cartel enjoys the complete support of the regime and has easy access to banking and financial resources and obtains contracts with no competitive bidding. It has created an operation whereby it dominates industrial and construction projects and a portion of oil and gas deals, rendering the private sector unable to compete.
The Khatam Headquarters contracting services act as a vast intermediary between the government and small engineering and technical companies, with a significant portion of their revenues seized by Khatam. Ownership of many of these companies was obtained unilaterally or through intimidation and, at times, by force.
The IRGC dominates the country’s economy and devours its resources while it officially receives an astronomical budget. According to the regime’s 2022-2023 budget plan, The Khatam al-Anbiya Headquarters and foundations under the regime’s Supreme Leader’s control are also receiving a budget, which is double the size of the General Government Budget.
The lion’s share of Iran’s 2022-2023 budget goes to the regime’s military apparatus, such as the Revolutionary Guards (IRGC), Army, and Bassij militia. According to the state-run Vatan-e Emrooz daily on December 13, the IRGC will receive “959 million euros.”
“In the budget bill, crude oil will be transferred to the armed forces as a source of revenue (from the General Government Budget). In next year’s budget bill, 4.5 billion euros will be allocated to strengthen defenses through the transfer of crude oil.”
The recently leaked audio file and the information listed above only show the tip of the iceberg of corruption, institutionalized in Iran’s ruling theocracy and its central oppressive apparatus, the IRGC.
Yas Holding and its dozens of subsidiaries are just a few of the IRGC’s front companies. These companies operate under the “private sector” banner and help finance terrorist operations, as Yas did. The IRGC is but one of the financial empires run by the Supreme Leader. The conjecture that over half of Iran’s GDP is controlled by institutions controlled by the Supreme Leader is undeniably credible. As shown by the data provided, behind the official banks and companies lies a web of institutions controlled by the theocracy, specifically the IRGC.
These excesses have occurred by depriving the society of the ownership of its wealth using force. While people are mired in abject poverty, regime officials squander national resources. So doing business with these companies, operated by the regime, would not help Iranians have a better life and, in fact, adds to their pain, poverty, and overall misery.
Pedram Soltani, Former Vice President of the Iranian Chamber of Commerce, Industries, Mines and Agriculture, wrote on Twitter: “The year they embezzled 80,000 billion rials there were 33,000 rundown schools and tent schools across the country. The [officials] could have reconstructed all these schools with 50,000 billion rials, so the children of this country could have had a roof on their head while studying.”