Features

The Man Behind Corruption and Embezzlement in Iranian Sports

October 16, 2019
IranWire
7 min read
Mohammad Reza Davarzani enjoys full immunity and has extended his authority by removing and appointing heads of sports federations to help implement his policies and serve his own financial interests
Mohammad Reza Davarzani enjoys full immunity and has extended his authority by removing and appointing heads of sports federations to help implement his policies and serve his own financial interests
A confidential report published by Iran’s General Inspection Office shows there were 53 violations and financial irregularities in the last years of Davarzani’s presidency at the volleyball federation
A confidential report published by Iran’s General Inspection Office shows there were 53 violations and financial irregularities in the last years of Davarzani’s presidency at the volleyball federation
IranWire has seen sections of a confidential report published by Iran’s General Inspection Office, which shows financial irregularities in the accounts of the volleyball federation
IranWire has seen sections of a confidential report published by Iran’s General Inspection Office, which shows financial irregularities in the accounts of the volleyball federation
There is evidence of 53 cases of financial irregularities  and violations in the volleyball federation's accounts
There is evidence of 53 cases of financial irregularities and violations in the volleyball federation's accounts

A minister with links to corruption scandals and financial misdealings is set to become one of Iran’s most influential sporting authorities, IranWire has learned.

On September 15, Mehr News Agency reported that Mohammad Reza Davarzani, a former Revolutionary Guards commander and the current deputy sports minister, has put forward his name for the presidency of Iran’s Volleyball Federation, one of Iranian sports' most lucrative federations. If he is successful, Davarzani, who has run the federation in the past, will secure his place in Iranian sports governance for years to come, and have a significant impact on the future of Iranian sports.

A report by Iran’s General Inspection Office, pages of which have been sent to IranWire, show that under Mohammad Reza Davarzani, a staggering amount of money has disappeared from the coffers of Iranian sports.

Since 2017, Davarzani's fingerprints have been on every corruption and embezzlement scandal in Iranian sports: Suspicious contracts between sponsors and big sports clubs; abuse of power when it comes to favoritism and appointments; the disappearance of astronomical sums from the coffers of sports clubs; sweetheart deals for the Revolutionary Guards’ Khatam-al Anbiya Construction Headquarters to build sports stadiums in Iraq; the forced resignation of Rasoul Khadem as president of the wrestling federation; the enforcement of the regime’s anti-Israeli policy on Iranian athletes; trumped-up national security charges against leading women in sports federations because they were not obedient enough or did not follow Davarzani's policies to the letter; and famously enabling his young son Mojtaba to take possession of sports properties without due process and at rock bottom prices — among other shady deals.

But Davarzani enjoys full immunity and has actually been extending his authority by removing and appointing heads of sports federations to better implement his own policies and serve his own interests.

 

A Career in Sports and Corruption 

During the 1980s, at the height of the Iran-Iraq War, Mohammad Reza Davarzani was both deputy director of the Revolutionary Guards Physical Education Department and responsible for devising training operation programs for Guards forces.

Starting in the early 1990s, former Revolutionary Guards commanders coveted positions in Iranian sports departments, but over the last 15 years or so, none of them has shown more staying power or developed deeper roots in sports than Davarzani.

Following the war, Davarzani was appointed as director of the Revolutionary Guards Physical Education Department, and then he became the secretary of the Iranian Federation of Polo and Horse Riding. In 2000, he took over the presidency. From the early days of the revolution, horseback riding has been a favorite activity of seminary students and the Revolutionary Guards because it had apparently been a much-loved activity of the Prophet Mohammad. Revolutionary Guards even took over the Pahlavi Riding Club — once the Shah’s club — turning it into one of their Tehran headquarters.

In 2005, Davarzani was appointed president of the Iranian Volleyball Federation. At the same time, he also managed volleyball and basketball teams at Sanam Sports Club, which was affiliated with the Ministry of Defense. Through his military connections, Davarzani was able to complete a university education and now holds a Ph.D. in management.

For most Iranians, Davarzani is best known for the slightly odd way he celebrated Iran’s Young Adults Volleyball Team victory at a world competition. On live television, he congratulated the Supreme Leader on the win, but no one else — not the players, not their manager, and not even the Iranian public.

When Hassan Rouhani became president, Davarzani became even more powerful. In January 2017, he was appointed to his “dream job” of Deputy Sports Minister for Championship Sports [Persian link]. On paper, he was just a deputy to the sports minister but, in fact, he had become the most powerful figure in Iranian sports.

 

Changing the Charter of One of Iran's Most Lucrative Federations

Starting in 2017, when he was appointed deputy sports minister until the end of that year, he ran the volleyball federation as its acting president. On December 28, 2017, in an election under his personal supervision, Ahmad Ziaei took over the reins as president of the federation. But less than a year later, Ziaei reached retirement age and was removed. Davarzani replaced him, with Afshin Davari as the acting president, on December 7, 2018. The volleyball federation has had no president since then.

Davari was appointed as the acting president to prepare the grounds for the return of Davarzani. According to a report published by Tabnak News Agency in July 2019, Davarzani had ordered the volleyball federation’s board of directors to change the federation’s charter to include a clause that clearly states the “non-governmental” nature of Iran’s volleyball federation. Government employees who reach the age of retirement must retire — and yet this clause would mean that since the federation is non-governmental, a retired Revolutionary Guards commander can become its president. The same news agency, without citing details, claimed that Davarzani “has new problems and he must solve them before returning to volleyball.”

So why did Mohammad Reza Davarzani suddenly resign from his job as the acting president of the volleyball federation in 2017? After all, even after he was appointed deputy sports minister, he had been running the federation for more than a year, although the law states that no organization can be run by a caretaker for more than six months.

The stated reason was that, by law, he could no longer stay in that position. But the real reason was that agents from Iran’s General Inspection Office had started looking into Iranian sports federations’ bookkeeping. When it came to auditing the football federation, they discovered that part of FIFA’s rewards to Iran had been deposited into the accounts of Carlos Queiroz, head coach of Iran’s national football team at the time, and Houshang Moghaddas, an Iranian businessman based in the United Arab Emirates who holds no official position within Iranian sports, ostensibly to bypass sanctions and to bring back the hard currency that had been allocated for Iranian football. However, the funds had simply disappeared and could not be traced back to Iran.

 

53 Cases of Violations and Financial “Irregularities”

Now “confidential” documents from Iran’s General Inspection Office reveal 53 cases of violations and financial irregularities in the last years of Davarzani’s presidency. IranWire was given access to sections of the report that show that money has gone missing from Iranian sport federation funds. 

For instance, paragraph 19 of the report shows that in 2015 and 2016, the Iranian Volleyball Federation bought hard currency from a currency trading organization called Star and a person by the name of Mohsen Sahar-Avard. The amounts were 26,578,753,350 rials ($820,711 in open market exchange rates at the time) in 2015 and 61,743,684,195 rials ($1,906,551) in 2016. But based on the exchange rate of the dollar and the euro in those years, the federation paid the money changer 734,151,465 rials ($22,669.49) over the actual price.

The Inspection Office report states: “Based on our investigations, the volleyball federation did not inquire about the real exchange rate from government agencies or the Central Bank.”

Another paragraph of the report says that in 2015 and 2016 the volleyball federation spent a total of 4,075,937,630 rials ($125,858) to send sports ministry officials to the United Arab Emirates and Japan but, from the point of view of the General Inspection Office, the necessity and the purpose of this expenditure is unclear.

The report also shows that there were two years when Davarzani charged the volleyball federation for “obtaining visas” for athletes, but none of the Iranian national volleyball team members ever traveled to the countries cited in the ledger for recording visa costs.

Another paragraph shows that from 2015 to 2017, the volleyball federation paid travel and tourist agencies 4,648,275,980 rials ($78,122.29) just for canceling tickets; the amount does not include other costs such as canceling hotel reservations.

Now Davarzani wants to perpetuate his presidency by changing the Iranian Volleyball Federation charter. In other words, when Rouhani’s presidency is over and Davarzani will be required to leave his job as deputy sports minister, he wants to ensure he has a guaranteed job to continue the corrupt lifestyle to which he is accustomed.

According to the website Varzesh 3, elections for the volleyball federation presidency were to take place before the end of autumn, but the sports ministry postponed the election and illegally renewed the tenure of Afshin Davari, Davarzani’s second-hand man, as the acting president, using the excuse that the “Olympics volleyball qualifying games are ahead.” This means that election will not take place until late 2020 at the earliest.

 

Related Coverage:

Football Legend Ali Daei Quits and Reveals Secrets, May 5, 2019

Corruption, Lies, and Iran's Football Federation, February 21, 2019

IranWire Exclusive: Iranian Football’s Million-Dollar Swindle, February 6, 2019

The Mystery of FIFA’s Missing Cash for Iran, July 17, 2018

Iran’s Revolutionary Guards and the Politics of Sports, January 27, 2016

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