Who wields power in the Islamic Republic of Iran? This question has long intrigued and divided Iran watchers. Few would name Hossein Taeb, an alias for a shadowy cleric who heads the intelligence department of the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC), a giant militia that controls vast swathes of Iran’s economy and acts as a praetorian guard for the Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei. Taeb’s department is notoriously feared for its brutal treatment of prisoners and it runs the Section 2A of Evin prison, home to many political prisoners and people jailed for being alleged threats to national security.
One of those prisoners, Reza Golpour, has now leaked six voice files out of Evin, essentially proving the wide networks of corruption in the Intelligence Department and the country’s judiciary.
Reza Golpour is an ultimate security insider and in no way a reformist or a democrat. In the early 2000s, the heyday of pro-democracy activism, he made a name for himself by publishing a bestselling book that linked top political figures close to the reformist administration of President Mohammad Khatami to alleged espionage and illicit connections, all the way back to the seizure of the US embassy in 1979. The book, Spying on Ghosts, was a rebuttal to The Darkroom of Ghosts, a popular book by the reformist journalist Akbar Ganji that blew the whistle on corrupt power relations in the Islamic Republic. In the years since, Golpour first backed the hardliner President Ahmadinejad but parted ways with him when the latter butted heads with Ayatollah Khamenei and certain IRGC factions. He was an editor for Ammarion, a hardline outlet, before he was suddenly arrested in 2016 and accused of a myriad charges, including working with Israel, which landed him with a 28-year prison sentence.
In the ferocious dog fights between various security factions, it is not unusual for one faction to expose another’s corruption. This especially intensified under President Ahmadinejad, who took an axe to much of the Islamic Republic’s establishment by exposing their corrupt dealings while harboring a new generation of astronomically corrupt leaders within his own administration.
The Golpour voice files were published by Shahrzad Mirgholikhan, a leading official of Iran’s state broadcaster during Mohammad Sarafraz’s short reign over the organization between 2014 and 2016. When he left his position in May 2016, it was reportedly because he clashed with Hossein Taeb. Although he came from a high-ranking revolutionary family, even that elite status couldn’t save him. Sarafraz has since fled to Oman, where he now lives.
In the audio clips, which run for about 170 minutes, Golpour can be heard talking to Ebrahim Raeesi, the judiciary’s recently-appointed head, and asking him to pursue the corrupt dealings of Taeb’s intelligence department and Raeesi’s own judiciary. He then goes on to expose a network of familial ties and their links to corrupt finances.
The tapes reveal ample information about Taeb’s family that was previously unknown. Golpour reveals that Taeb’s brother Mehdi, himself head of a powerful IRGC center called Ammar, had married the daughter of Gholamhossein Dehghani, a cleric and member of parliament who was killed in the 1981 bombing of the Islamic Republican Party headquarters in Tehran. (Sarafraz’s brother, Javad, was killed in the same bombing, a somewhat poetic link between Taeb and his nemesis.)
On the audio clips, Golpour asks Taeb to explain a sex scandal in Germany involving his late father-in-law, Ali Akbar Moosavi Hosseini, the host of popular 1980s TV show called “Manners and Morals in Family.” German authorities allegedly framed Hosseini when he traveled to Germany in the late 1990s, arranging for an undercover German agent to seduce him and then filming their intimate relations. The files suggest the German authorities did this to secure the release of Helmut Hofer, a German businessman who was jailed in 1998 for having sex with an Iranian woman and who became known as the “sex case German.” Hofer had initially been sentenced to death but was released in April 1999.
The tapes also claim that there is a triangular relationship between the Taebs and two other prominent figures of the IRGC: Mohammad Ali Jafari, the IRGC’s powerful ex-commander and Ahmad Motevaselian , a well-known IRGC commander during the war with Iraq who mysteriously disappeared in 1982 while on a mission to Lebanon — many people believe he is still being held by the Israelis. The tapes also reveal that Ahmad Motevaselian’s son Heydar is married to Taeb’s daughter Zeinab and that Motevaselian’s sister is married to Jafari’s son Mohammad. Golpour’s elaborate tales about Taeb’s family include the claim that he had threatened his wife with a gun, suspecting her of cheating on him with his brother.
But the leaks are not simply about intriguing family links or old stories of men in compromising situations. Golpour also reveals the names of 18 top officials working for the IRGC’s intelligence department, including an official tasked with “identifying Jews” and supposedly in charge of spying on Iran’s Jewish minority. He also gives the names of those in charge of targeting environmental activists, running Section 2A of Evin and liaising with the country’s Supreme National Security Council.
A Corrupt Judiciary
The tapes also refer to numerous corruption allegations against top figures of the judiciary. Many of these allegations have been aired before, but the files provide further information on the matters. Golpour alleges that three men in the judicial establishment have made millions through corrupt deals. Most important are the revelations about Sadegh Larijani, the scion of a powerful Qom family who was previously head of the judiciary until he was replaced by Raeesi in March. There are also revelations about Larijani’s executive deputy, Ali Akbar Atbaee Tabari, and Abbas Jafari Dowlatabadi, who was the prosecutor for Tehran for 10 years before Raeesi dismissed him.
Atbaee Tabari is already notorious when it comes to corruption charges. Alireza Zakani, a conservative MP and a harsh critic of Rouhani, had previously leveled corruption charges at Tabari, but the accusations actually helped Zakani side since the powerful Larijani brothers had effectively allied with Rouhani for a time. After Larijani’s term finished and Ayatollah Khamenei appointed him as head of the Expediency Council, there were rumors that Larijani had kept Tabari on his staff. Larijani’s office was forced to issue a statement denying the story and threatened to bring a lawsuit against the Islamic Republic News Agency, the country’s official news agency, which is controlled by the president.
According to Golpour’s files, Larijani disobeyed Khamenei by giving special construction concessions to three brothers from the Najafi family (Mehdi, Mohsen and Ghasem, who have no connections to Tehran’s disgraced mayor) in Kelak, a mountainous suburb of Tehran known for excellent air. Kelak has been the site of egregious land-grabbings which, according to the tapes, were made possible by Larijani’s largesse to the three Najafi brothers. The tapes name many of the petrochemical and textile factories owned by the Najafis.
Golpour also implicates Rasoul Danialzadeh, known as Iran’s “King of Steel,” who was reputed to have links to Hossein Fereydoon, President Rouhani’s brother and special aide who was himself brought down by corruption allegations. Danialzadeh was arrested because he owed a mighty 20,000 billion Iranian rials to various banks. Golpour says he met him while in Evin, where the “King of Steel” told him of his elaborate relations with Larijani, Taeb and corrupt men in the judiciary, including Dowlatabadi.
Stories of Torture
Golpour also speaks of his own experience of torture, especially severe during his 27 months in the 2A unit at Evin. He says Taeb had tried hard to land him with a death sentence.
According to the tapes, before his arrest, Golpour’s bedroom, toilet and shower were all being surveilled by cameras installed by the IRGC’s intelligence department with the express purpose of taking comprising footage of Kristin Dailey, Golpour’s American wife, a Muslim convert and a regular contributor to Beirut’s English-language Daily Star. Dailey is a graduate of Georgetown University’s famed Arab studies MA program and got to know Golpour while reporting from Lebanon. They met through the man in charge of Hezbollah’s media operations, who is known only by the name Moosavi.
Taeb’s department has charged Golpour and his wife with an extremely serious and damning accusation. It was alleged that the pair collaborated to inform Israel’s intelligence service, Mossad, of the location of Afghan militias in Khan Tuman, Aleppo. Golpour had also been accused of using his wives to compromise IRGC commanders and extract information from them, a classic humiliating charge regularly used by Iran’s security establishments. (Golpour married Dailey in 2009 and prior to that, had been married twice.) The charge of Golpour being linked to Mossad had emerged before, when one of his other old enemies, Hossein Shariatmadari, the powerful editor of Kayhan newspaper, made the same claim. Back in the 2000s when Golpour’s book was published, Shariatmadari attacked it, calling it a subversive book. When Golpour left for Lebanon shortly thereafter, Shariatmadari allegedly contacted Hezbollah to warn against his possible Mossad connections.
Still, the image of a blonde American who wears the hijab and praises the Islamic Republic has always been too good for Iran’s hardliners to pass up. Iran’s hardline media have treated Dailey like a trophy and in 2008, Fars News Agency gave her an award, which was presented to her by Hamid Reza Moqadam Far, the agency’s erstwhile head. In an interview she told Mashreq News Agency, “Iran is much safer than the US … There is so much violence and street and urban clashes in America, which we don’t see in Iran.”
On the tapes, Golpour names Moqadam Far as being among the top figures in the IRGC’s intelligence department. A top deputy to Moqadam Far’s deputy was Majid Gholizadeh, who is currently the head of Tasnim, another IRGC-linked news agency.
As the recently released audio clips show, in the complex networks of power in the Islamic Republic, ideology, media and corruption are mixed in strange and mysterious ways.