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Austere, Devout Ayatollah Is Secretly As Rich As The Shah


Ayatollah Khamenei, the Supreme Leader of Iran, secretly runs a financial empire that would give the Shah a run for his money. The business interests of Khamenei’s little-known organization, called Setad, include a dizzying array of properties, oil and gas holdings, telecommunications, even ostrich farming. Reuters estimates that Setad oversees assets worth $95 billion.

The first part of an in-depth Reuters investigation shows that Setad habitually confiscates property from ordinary Iranians, including minorities like Baha’is, auctions it off and pockets the proceeds. It owns or invests in farms, energy businesses, stores, and much else. It intimidates Iranians who resist Setad’s efforts to take over their personal assets. Court orders support these shady dealings.

A “small part” of Setad’s operations are philanthropic.

When Khomeini, the first supreme leader, set in motion the creation of Setad, it was only supposed to manage and sell properties “without owners” and direct much of the proceeds to charity. Setad was to use the funds to assist war veterans, war widows “and the downtrodden.” According to one of its co-founders, Setad was to operate for no more than two years. […]

A complete picture of Setad’s spending and income isn’t possible. Its books are off limits even to Iran’s legislative branch. In 2008, the Iranian Parliament voted to prohibit itself from monitoring organizations that the supreme leader controls, except with his permission. […]

All told, Reuters was able to identify about $95 billion in property and corporate assets controlled by Setad. That amount is roughly 40 percent bigger than the country’s total oil exports last year. It also surpasses independent historians’ estimates of the late shah’s wealth.

Definitely read the whole thing and look out for parts two and three of the story. A full picture of how Iran’s top leadership operates is not complete without an understanding of how the Ayatollah maintains his upper hand in the society. Fascinating stuff from Reuters.

[Flame image courtesy of Shutterstock. Grand Ayatollah Ali Khamenei image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.]

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  • lukelea

    I saw an estimate by a McKinsey associate that the total holdings of assorted third-world crooks and politicians in off-shore tax havens on the order of $15 trillion! The problem isn’t that these underdeveloped countries don’t have assets, he noted, the problem is that they are all in Miami (with the assistance of all the big Wall St. banks he added).

    Just one more reason for OECD countries to outlaw secret bank accounts and shell corporations as part of a global effort to enforce civilized norms around the world.

    • Corlyss

      Ah, yes. The alleged OECD’s push to render ineffective the banking and tax havens. Why, just 13 years ago one of the targets was the US. Since then, all OECD nations have reduced their tax rates, while now the Americans are the ones with the high taxes and they’re going higher.

  • Andrew Allison

    I’m shocked, shocked to learn that given the opportunity to steal legally, anybody would actually do so. Such a thing could never happen on Wall Street, right? Or on the part of government agencies empowered to confiscate property.

  • Corlyss

    “Ayatollah Khamenei, the Supreme Leader of Iran, secretly runs a financial empire that would give the Shah a run for his money.”
    No foolin’? What the heck’s the point of being the Big Cheese if you can’t get rich in the process? Obviously the ascetic appearance is only for public consumption. It hardly matters anyway. Iranians can’t do much about their circumstances and Obama would work hard to see that they couldn’t succeed even if they tried.

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