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What is the List that Ahmadinejad wants from Trump?

August 3, 2018
Reza Haghighat Nejad
5 min read
Former Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad wants US President Donald Trump to publish a list of the relatives of Iranian officials who live in the US, as well as their bank accounts.
Former Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad wants US President Donald Trump to publish a list of the relatives of Iranian officials who live in the US, as well as their bank accounts.

In a tweet, former Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has asked US President Donald Trump to provide a list of Iranian officials’ relatives who live in the United States: “Mr Trump: Release the list of relatives of Iranian government officials that have green cards and bank accounts in the United States if you have such a list.”

It appears that this request by Ahmadinejad is related to a report published on June 22, by Iran Student Correspondence Association (ISCA News), affiliated with the Islamic Azad University, claiming to quote US Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin as saying that, “5,432 of the children of Iranian officials live in the United States. Of these only 354 have college degrees. 3,947 of them lack any expertise and the rest work at ordinary jobs. At this moment, besides their personal properties, they have US$148.267 billion in their bank accounts and since Iran has not signed FATF [Financial Action Task Force on Money Laundering] and these funds come from unknown sources, they must have entered the US through money laundering. We will confiscate these funds and deport these individuals to Iran within three months.”

Apart from the strange content of the report, ISCA News did not identify any source for the report, and no source, be it official or unofficial, can be found on any American website. Numerous people questioned the authenticity of the report online. However, on June 23, Reza Vaezi, managing editor of ISCA News, doubled down and told the official Islamic Republic News Agency (IRNA) that the report was correct, even though it had been removed from the site. “Within a few days we will officially publish the report and you will see that this is what the US meant by the ‘June surprise’,” he said.

The “June surprise” was another baseless rumor that was started by Javad Karimi Ghodoosi, a conservative member of parliament, who is also a former Revolutionary Guards commander and critic of President Rouhani, and who has a long record of “disclosing” unsubstantiated news. On June 13, he told the website, Afkar News, that “the US president’s advisor John Bolton has announced that ‘we have a June surprise for Iran and we are preparing for it’.” A search shows that John Bolton has never uttered such words — at least not publicly — and US government sources have not confirmed the news.

Spreading Fake News

Nevertheless, these reports were too good for some to pass up, and they spread across social networks. Remarks made by a number of parliamentarians show that they have taken the news seriously. One of them was Mahmoud Bahmani, a current member of parliament and the former governor of the Iranian Central Bank under President Ahmadinejad. “Today they announced that our noble-born [a colloquialism used in Iran to refer to the children of the elite, the wealthy and the powerful] have US$148 billion in their foreign bank accounts,” he said. “Our country’s whole reserves are not that much... What [are] these 5,000 noble-born ... doing outside Iran? It is said that 300 of them are studying. What are the rest doing? The government must look into this.”

Even Major General Mohammad Ali Jafari, the top commander of the Revolutionary Guards, implicitly referred to the “June surprise” in a public speech on July 22. The US, Israel and Saudi Arabia, he said, “had many plans for June and July and were hoping to spread insecurity, but our country enjoys good security.”

It might be that some members of the security establishment want to spread rumors like the “June surprise” and then claim that they have foiled the plot and thus boast of their power and efficiency. Considering the special relations between the Revolutionary Guards and Javad Karimi Ghodoosi whom some call the Guards’ “unofficial” spokesman, the “June surprise” might well fit this pattern.

But the report about the “confiscation of US$148 billion” is more complicated. The sentence, “they [the money] must have entered the US through money laundering”, shows that the writer of the report wanted to draw the public’s attention to the plundering of people’s money by the officials of the Islamic Republic. The report also coincided with the disputes over passing laws related to FATF.

Based in Paris, FATF is an inter-governmental body established in 1989, to “set standards and promote effective implementation of legal, regulatory and operational measures for combating money laundering, terrorist financing and other related threats to the integrity of the international financial system.” On June 20, Ayatollah Khamenei opposed a bill put forward by President Hassan Rouhani to join the International Convention for the Suppression of the Financing of Terrorism, as was recommended by FATF. But Khamenei rejected this, stating that Iran would not submit to conventions that undermine the country’s independence. He then asked the Iranian parliament to pass its own laws to tackle money laundering and terrorism.

In fact, lack of financial transparency appears to be the main focal point. It is unlikely that that the Principilists were the source of the news attributed to Steven Mnuchin, because, like the Supreme Leader, many of them are opposed to the passing of FATF-related laws. It seems more likely that the source leans towards opposition to the Islamic Republic.

Campaign to Expel the “Noble-Born”

Only two weeks before the report was published, Ali Javanmardi, a reporter for Voice of America (VOA) started an online petition campaign, advocating the expulsion of the “noble-born” and the children of the Islamic Republic officials.

The petition was addressed to President Trump, and Javanmardi has yet to publish his final report for the campaign. On August 1, however, after Ahmadinejad’s tweet was published, Javanmardi wrote on his Telegram channel that, “many of the Islamic Republic’s senior political and military officials have sent their children to the United States.”

It cannot be said with certainty that the “confiscation of $148 billion” and the “campaign to expel the noble-born” are directly related, but such news would help the campaign in claiming that the signatures that it has gathered have convinced American officials to take action. In fact, to show their success, some campaign activists have claimed that Donald Trump has assigned a team to investigate the green cards issued to the Iranian “noble-born”. Again, this news is completely unsubstantiated and a credible source for it cannot be found.

Nevertheless, Ahmadinejad’s tweet is bound to make promoters of the “confiscation of US$148 billion” news happy, although it does not mean that the parties to such rumors are necessarily connected or act in coordination with each other. It only shows the consequences of the lack of transparency and the more difficult road ahead for objective journalists.




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