By Pooya Stone
Over the past two years, domestic car prices in Iran have risen in an unprecedented and staggering manner due to institutionalized corruption in the automotive industry and the involvement of high government officials.
Government media and the officials consider the dismissal of the Minister of Industry by President Hassan Rouhani to be in connection with this scandal.
Earlier, Gholam Hossein Mohseni Ejei, the first deputy head of the judiciary, said: “One of the automakers, which his case is handling, has 600 dealerships across the country, but has chosen 15 special dealerships and is giving them its products to sell these to the people at high prices as demand increases.” (FARS, 19 August 2019)
One of the tricks to increase car prices is to hoard cars. In this regard, a member of the parliament from Songhor said: “When warehouses with a stock of 3,000 cars are discovered, it is clear that there is a mafia network in which the manufactured car is taken out from the car factory in a different way instead of entering the market. Therefore, the mafia network is also involved in these fluctuations.” (Resalat daily, 21 May 2020)
Another of the regime’s tricks to divert public opinion and help to the escape of the main actors in state corruption is to sacrifice one or more people as ‘Sultans’ in its shows to fight against corruption. We have seen such an example in the arrest and punishment of the Sultan of Coins, the Sultan of Bitumen, the Sultan of Paper, and so on.
Although these victims with the help of the Revolutionary Guards (IRGC) and other regime leaders have passed quickly the ladder of corruption, their arrest and execution have not only led to a drop in prices but have also increased prices.
With this scenario, a young couple has also been sentenced to death, which state media have labeled as the ‘Sultans of Cars.’
A member of the regime’s parliament said in fear of the result of this act on 18 May in the parliament: “Gentlemen making Sultans and then annihilate the Sultan in a vicious circle that does not work in the economy. It may work in politics, but economics is not so simple. The wrong decision of the President in the pre-sale of coins cannot be covered up by execution and house-destroying people and businesses… The country’s economy has been destroyed. We have built a ruin, the cure for which is not to kill hundreds of other sultans. If we execute and imprison all economic activists, this ruin will not be right. The solution must be sought elsewhere.” (Fereydoun Ahmadi, a member of the regime’s parliament from Zanjan, 18 May)
ISNA on 20 May wrote: “Now, the question is whether all these crimes have been possible only in interaction with the CEO and Deputy Marketing Director of Saipa at the time, or have there been other influential people who have supported the couple and committed crimes in their name?
“It is the custom of ‘white-collar criminals’ all over the world that they do not directly commit crimes, but showcase anonymous and greedy people so that if one day there is a legal confrontation, there will be no trace of its origins.”
But the Resalat daily went further and referred to the corruption in the automotive industry and the high cost of automobiles the government’s guilt. It wrote:
“The media put the tip of the arrow of accusation sometimes at carmakers, sometimes at brokers, and sometimes at people, but whatever the problem, the government is aware of it. People nor can decrease the prices, nor they can confront the brokers, and nor they cannot give up their demand to buy. (Resalat, 13 May)
Ali Alilou, a former parliament member, in an interview with state TV about the Car Production mafia and its breach by the regime’s officials, said: “Three factors are a problem in many places. Management inadequacy, part of the management inefficiency is intentional. That is, it is the toy of the same mafia in the government. The influence of the mafia elements in the automotive industry even influences the minister. They are infiltrating our surveillance devices. They are infiltrating our security apparatus. I have a red line to name them. (90 economic talk show, 13 February 2019)
The report of the investigation of the regime’s parliament also emphasizes the role of security institutions in creating corruption in the automotive industry, Iran Khodro, and Saipa companies:
“The multiplicity of security, regulatory and judicial institutions in the automotive industry, in addition to creating an atmosphere of uncertainty, causes nonconformity in the type and level of dealing with industry issues and problems, and sometimes based on evidence, causes corruption at a level that is difficult and sometimes impossible to deal with.
“Automakers are moving away from public oversight and computing, outflow or blocking working capital and impoverishment of key sectors of the value chain, high financial costs, becoming a backyard for government officials as well as influential people, and more importantly, it has made management dependent, tasteful, unsuccessful, prone to corrupt, irresponsible, and unstable.” (ISNA, 19 May)
There is no doubt that these influential government officials are among the biggest figures and leaders of the regime, as in the Rouhani administration, Nematzadeh was the Minister of Industry. His corruption and that of his daughter was exposed.
The arrest and imprisonment of Rouhani’s brother, who was an official in Rouhani’s government, or Ahmadinejad’s first deputy and some of his ministers, were some examples of such influential thefts.
During the tenure of Mohammad Shariatmadari, the second Minister of Industry of Rouhani’s government, 6,481 vehicles were registered illegally, about 2,000 of which were imported, and during the faction’s infightings on the looting of people’s properties, Shariatmadari’s son-in-law was tried and convicted of corruption and embezzlement.