In Iran, each and every day the media, senior officials, and government-linked figures write or talk about systematic corruption that has infested the Iranian economy like termites, according to Vice-President Ishaq Jahangiri. Of course, Jahangiri brandishes corruption as a dilemma that the government is confronting.
However, this phenomenon had been institutionalized in the Islamic Republic’s structure and is influencing the entire ruling system. Under the ayatollahs’ rule, no specific institute is accountable for the country’s economy and the economy has been synonymous with rent and corruption.
Islamic Republic founder Ruhollah Khomeini had a famous motto about the economy. “The economy belongs to the donkey,” he once said. It seems his successors gained damning privileges from “donkeys.”
Iran’s financial system is controlled by a group of thefts and looters whose mere concern is how to line their enlarged pockets with the people’s meager money. In other words, the constitution has paved the path for the government’s profiteering projects and economic policies only benefit the ayatollahs and Revolutionary Guards (IRGC) commanders.
“What happened in the past 40 years—despite seven different administrations—I saw all of them in line with the intensification of looting. Privatization was only the amplification of plundering and transmission rents from the administration’s resources to state-linked classes due to the path that it has crossed in Iran,” Saeed Leylaz, a government-linked economist, told Navad-e Eghtesadi website on April 16.
These remarks indicate that all the government’s sectors, including ministries, security and military bodies and even city councils, are involved in corruption. Recently, the judiciary detained a large number of city council members on corruption charges.
“Twenty years after establishing city councils, they not only did not improve urban affairs but also people consider these institutions as brokering centers. This thought is not false. During this period, 200 mayors and members of city councils have been detained for rent-seeking and corrupt cases,” wrote the Javan daily, an outlet affiliated to the IRGC. “Several city councils dissolved due to the high number of arrests. There are few provinces that their city council members or mayors have not been arrested for rent-seeking or corruption-related charges,” the October 3 article adds.
“The cities of Lavasan, Rudehen, Shahryar, Bushehr, Bandar-Abbas, Ahvaz, Masjed Soleiman, Veis, Sari, Salmanshahr, Rudsar, Tabriz, Mahabad, and Iranshahr saw their mayors or city council members detained due to rent-seeking and financial corruption. The collective amount that has been stolen by these officials has not yet been announced. However, a ballpark figure shows these corrupt managers have plundered tens of trillions of rials [equal to billions of dollars],” the Javan piece adds.
“Economic corruption has been chronic in the country, sucking the economy’s blood like a leach due to the lack of transparent infrastructure and smart supervision. The government still runs with costly and expensive expenditures, and the country’s bureaucracy faces two challenges, being squanders and expenditures,” Ebtekar daily wrote on the same day.
On the other hand, the government tries to portray a nice view of the economy while it has been crippled with enormous dilemmas mostly originated from domestic reasons. “No Sir, we must understand the problem. When we take a precise look, we realize that not only our shoes’ heel or knees are contaminated with corruption, but also we have sunk into corruption to our neck. It has influenced everything we even think about,” said economy expert Ali Saberi Toulaei in an interview with the Channel Four TV on November 13, 2019.
“Everything we even think about” is an implicit reference to the supreme leader Ali Khamenei’s office. Given the flawed power structure, all the country’s economic lifelines are in the grips of Khamenei-affiliated institutions. Relying on infinite power focused on Khamenei himself and his staff, these companies benefit limitless exemption and impunity to plunder national resources and the people’s properties.
Recently, Iranian media outlets shed light on corrupt cases of Khamenei’s preacher Ali Reza Panahian. In response to criticisms of his multi-billion-rial home, he claimed that it is a “gift” from friends. “He attributes his wealthy properties to friends who sit in the country’s highest-ranking positions to normalize the issue. These friends offer gifts to influential figures… They offer most reliefs, discounts, and gifts to those who are decision-makers,” Hamdeli daily wrote on October 3.
Of course, corruption is not an unknown phenomenon among Iranian authorities. “Corruption is like a dragon with seven heads. Once you cut one head, it keeps moving with six others and destroying it is not easy. Dealing with those who benefit corruption is a difficult issue,” Channel Six TV aired Khamenei’s remarks on February 8, 2018.
On August 13, 2018, he once again called the country’s corruption phenomenon a “seven-head dragon” and stressed on countercorruption measures, according to IRGC-affiliated Fars news agency. Khamenei did not clearly mention the corruption’s heads; however, he provided a perfect view of this issue in Iran.
Hamdeli daily attributed Iran’s corruption crisis to the power structure built up on “personal, family, and friendly relations.” This is beyond regular nepotism that many countries across the world deal with. In such a structure, officials benefit due to loyalty to the supreme leader and his staff, paving the path for the emerging mafia in different sectors.
The rulers sacrifice unimportant figures to save the reputation of high-ranking officials. Akbar Tabari, the former executive deputy of the judiciary, is a good example of this system’s implementation. However, given advances in the internet and people’s access to firsthand factsheets and testimonies, senior Iranian officials cannot brush the country’s systematic corruption under the carpet any longer.
The Iranian people have made it crystal clear that they consider Khamenei as the main figure behind Iran’s corruption. “Khamenei lives like the Lord, while people beg for some bread,” is a popular slogan frequently chanted by outraged protesters recently. They clearly announced that they would not be duped by Khamenei’s remarks and cynical countercorruption stunts and do not trust the corrupt government any longer.