January 23, 2020
A high-ranking official of the Supreme Leader’s Office announced January 21 that conglomerates controlled by military and religious entities under Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei’s direct supervision are taking steps to be listed on Tehran’s stock exchange.
Mohammad-Javad Iravani who is the Deputy of Supervision and Auditing of Leader’s Office was referring to what is believed to be the largest financial and business network in Iran, worth more than a $100 billion by some estimates and shielded from public scrutiny and independent auditing.
“Entities” is an umbrella word for foundations and companies controlled by the “Clandestine Government”, a name often used to refer to Khamenei’s Office and organizations controlled by it. Some entities are political and military, making crucial decisions overriding all other government institutions and others are economic conglomerates beyond anyone’s reach.
One reason for listing the secretive entities on the stock market is to blur their ownership and somewhat shield them from American or international sanctions. Another reason might be the need to raise cash as state coffers and Khamenei’s funds dwindle under the pressure of U.S. sanctions.
In his remarks Iravani implied that the reason these companies are not active in the Tehran Stock Exchange is that they do not meet certain requirements, in other words, there are transparency and tax payment issues which according to him were discussed with the economy minister and need to be resolved before their listing on the exchange.
Iravani also said all “economic, social, cultural and service ‘entities’ are subject to auditing and supervision” by his department, because as Khamenei-supervised bodies they are exempt from regular government auditing which is required for qualifying for trading shares in the stock market. He also claimed the “entities” are among the most prompt in paying taxes, although many have officially been exempt from taxation for years.
Iravani plays the role of treasurer in Khamenei’s Office and is also the man in charge of ensuring the so-called “Clandestine Government” has all the funds it needs for running the kind of operations that are rarely made public.
Iravani made the remark in an address to the annual Economic Resistance Conference. The agenda of the conference is “establishing ideal strategies” in companies controlled by these entities on the basis of Khamenei’s economic vision and solutions to overcome international sanctions. Khamenei calls it the “Resistance Economy”.
Another speaker of the conference, Mohammad-Rezaq Eskandari who is the CEO of Kowsar Economic Organization, an affiliate of Martyrs Foundation which is among the entities controlled by Khamenei, said since March 2018 the shares of four of the companies owned by the organization have been sold through Iran Fara Bourse, to “more than one million individuals”.
Iran Fara Bourse operates under the official supervision of Securities and Exchange Organization as an over-the-counter exchange, without supervision by the regular stock exchange commission. It is a market for trading in shares of the companies that do not meet the requirements for trading in the official stock exchange authority, the Bourse of Tehran.
Pointing out Khamenei’s statement in his most recent Friday Prayer sermon where he said “Iran must be strong” Eskandari said this meant Iran should be economically strong and “entities” can be pioneers in achieving “deterrence against foreign pressure”.
It is not clear which entities and how many companies will be listed on the stock exchange and what percentage of their shares will be offered to the public. But even if the majority of their shares are sold to investors, in the authoritarian country Khamenei can easily continue to control their finances.