In it, the Iranian press confront President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad just before he leaves office with a report declaring Iran the second-most corrupt country in the world. Pressed over who is to blame, an indignant Ahmadinejad bursts out: “You ingrates! Do you know how much we had to pay in bribes not to top the list?”
The new anticorruption campaign by Ahmadinejad’s successor Hassan Rouhani rings similar.
Conveniently, the campaign does not tackle the corruption of his own circle or that of his mentor Ayatollah Ali-Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, but rather the Ahmadinejad-era economic scandals that have infuriated an Iranian public struggling through a sanctions-hit economy.
Take Babak Zanjani, the profiteer who was tasked with bypassing international sanctions and selling Iran’s oil in the black market. Zanjani is behind bars, but there is no trace of more than $2 billion he owes the Oil Ministry. Or Mah-Afarid Amir-Khosravi, a university dropout executed for bank embezzlement, but whose stolen $2.6 billion remains unaccounted for.
In addition to the legal campaign, Rouhani has sought to restore public confidence by targeting the tax exemption of large business conglomerates. That effort, under the motto “equality under the law,” has already made some gains: On December 3, the parliament passed Rouhani’s bill annulling the exemption of certain arms of the executive branch that directly report to the Supreme Leader.
The list includes the charitable organizations such as the Mashhad based Astan-e Qods-e Razavi, Setad-e Farman-e Emam[Headquarters for Execution of the Imam’s Decree], Bonyad-e Mostazafan [Foundation of the Oppressed] and the Khatam al-Anbia [“Seal of the Prophets”], a massive engineering contractor operated by the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC).
Iranians, however, know that some government entities are more equal than others, and few expected the IRGC to pay its fair share of taxes. When earlier this month, Rouhani implicitly criticized the concentration of power in IRGC hands, the Guards accused him of “insulting the Iranian nation.”
Shortly thereafter, the president’s oil minister and deputy for planning and strategic oversight showered Khatam al-Anbia with praise, emphasizing that the IRGC poses no threat to the private sector. Parliamentary Speaker Ali Larijani then welcomed expensive bids from the Guards’ contracting arm at a time of dwindling public funding for infrastructure projects.
Rouhani, the putative anti-corruption and wealth-concentration campaigner, is now perpetuating his regime’s worst corruption practices.
Rouhani’s change of heart on the IRGC’s privileges appears due to pressure from Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei to maintain balance within the government. The regime, after all, rests upon two pillars: Rouhani’s appointed technocrat ministers and the brute force of the IRGC.
The IRGC, which oppose Rouhani’s nuclear negotiations, are now benefiting from the West’s sanctions-easing and the preferential economic status that Rouhani’s government has granted it. The Guards now appear set to have it both ways: reaping the windfall from sanctions relief without yielding concessions at the nuclear negotiating table.
American legislators have an opportunity to convince the Guards otherwise.
Washington has already designated the IRGC and its larger arms as terror organizations. It could go further, by targeting economic fronts of the Guards such as the IRGC Cooperative Foundation and its subsidiaries; the Basij Cooperative Foundation and its subsidiaries; Mehr Finance and Credit Institution and its subsidiaries; and Mehr-e Eghtesad-e Iranian Investment Company and its subsidiaries.
The United States can still weaken the Guards considerably, even if Rouhani has proven he cannot.
Iran Briefing | News Press Focus on Human Rights Violation by IRGC, Iran Human Rights
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