September 1, 2020
Systemic state corruption in Iran is no longer a hidden issue that can be denied or covered up. Corruption levels have reached record-breaking levels within most official state institutions, including the regime’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC). Corruption even exists within institutions that are expected to combat this phenomenon, such as the parliament and judiciary. As a result of this disastrous situation, the Iranian regime has felt the need to set up special courts to try those accused of corruption and mitigate its dangerous impact on the economy, which is being crippled by harsh US sanctions.
The long-hidden financial scandals of the IRGC have surfaced, with its vast corruption networks in the dock. Parviz Fattah, the head of the Mostazafan Foundation (Foundation for the Oppressed), one of the Iranian regime’s largest economic establishments, admitted this month that the IRGC, among other state institutions, had used the foundation to engage in projects worth billions. This means the revenues generated from these projects have gone to the IRGC, not the foundation.
This admission has revealed the scope of the IRGC’s penetration and influence within the foundation. Its financial empire has expanded to include most of the regime’s institutions, especially the financial ones.
Fattah’s revelations have once again exposed the Iranian regime’s claim that it defends the vulnerable and oppressed, with the regime-backed IRGC profiteering from a foundation that is supposedly dedicated to helping the oppressed.
The IRGC’s concern that it might finally be held accountable for the multiple corruption operations in which it is involved prompted its commander in Tehran, Mohammed Reza Yazdi, to react. He expressed his resentment toward Fattah’s revelations and judicial attempts to bring IRGC-affiliated entities and figures involved in corruption to justice.
Tellingly, Yazdi did not attempt, as he usually does, to deny any IRGC involvement in the corruption that has eaten away at the foundations of most Iranian state institutions. On this occasion, he instead attempted to downplay the level of corruption, saying: “If we calculate all the embezzlement transactions, they’ll be equal to 80,000 billion tomans (nearly $19 billion, according to the official exchange rate). This isn’t a large figure given the budget of the state over the past 10 years.”
Yazdi spoke casually of this vast sum of money, as though it means nothing to the Iranian state or to most of the Iranian people living in deep poverty. In addition, he appeared oblivious to the thousands of new IRGC-linked corruption cases that are being exposed daily, including bribes, embezzlement, money laundering, drug running and smuggling. These are worth hundreds of billions of dollars, not “only” billions of tomans as he alleged.
As usual, the IRGC commanders are clever at extricating themselves from accusations and blaming others for Iran’s failures and setbacks. Yazdi pointed the finger of blame at the usual vague “enemies,” who he claimed are amplifying the corruption operations. It seems, however, that the alleged enemies in this issue are many and are not confined to the regime’s adversaries.
President Hassan Rouhani has previously warned of the disastrous implications of the military’s involvement in the economic arena. Here, Rouhani meant the IRGC and its rampant corruption, not the army, which he lauded for not engaging in economic projects and enterprises. The army has apparently not been involved in activities that contradict its role and mission.
In 2017, the Rouhani government exerted pressure on the IRGC to concede some of its stakes in certain enterprises. However, despite the president attempting to curb the financial and economic clout of the IRGC, his efforts have been unsuccessful. The IRGC’s clout has not only significantly hindered economic reform in Iran, but has also increased the multiple challenges facing the Rouhani government in particular and the Iranian regime in general.
The competition and rivalry among the different political factions within the Iranian regime has led to a huge number of corruption cases involving the IRGC being exposed. Direct accusations of corruption have been leveled at the IRGC and its senior commanders by institutions and figures affiliated with the regime.
Yazdi’s reaction demonstrates the IRGC’s desire not to relinquish its vast financial empire, which it has built up since it first got involved in the state’s economic activities during the period of construction following the Iran-Iraq War. This reached its peak during the era of former President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, as the IRGC managed to wrest control of most of the heavyweight economic institutions in Iran. Yazdi’s response may also be a last-ditch desperate attempt to abort judicial attempts to investigate the IRGC’s corruption networks and scandals, as well as to send a signal to IRGC-affiliated entities and figures involved in corruption to carry on with their activities.
To conclude, it can be said that, due to the substantial role played by the IRGC and its stature within the structure of the Iranian regime, as well as its importance to the supreme leader, there is no possibility that it or its commanders will face prosecution in any anti-corruption trials.
Despite this, however, as a result of the ongoing revelations of corruption in the IRGC and the Iranian people’s long-burning anger at its financial corruption and repressive practices, the Iranian regime could find itself prompted to hold sham trials for a limited number of IRGC affiliates and figures. The aim of such trials would be to protect and uphold the integrity of the IRGC. This would be done by highlighting to the Iranian people that a few “black sheep” within the IRGC have been involved in corruption networks and scandals, but not the IRGC at an institutional or leadership level. Through such trials, the regime would also seek to prove the veracity of judiciary chief Ebrahim Raisi’s claim that all corruption files are dealt with transparently. Whether such kangaroo courts fool or pacify the long-suffering Iranian people, however, is another matter altogether.