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Corrupt to the Core: The Long List of Corrupt Iranian Officials

December 21, 2020
Ehsan Mehrabi
11 min read
Mahmoud Sadeghi, a former member of the Iranian parliament, published the full report into the Sarmayeh Bank corruption case
Mahmoud Sadeghi, a former member of the Iranian parliament, published the full report into the Sarmayeh Bank corruption case
The report names the nephew and son-in-law of Mahmoud Hashemi Shahroudi, left, a former head of the judiciary and former chairman of the Expediency Council
The report names the nephew and son-in-law of Mahmoud Hashemi Shahroudi, left, a former head of the judiciary and former chairman of the Expediency Council

A politician has released details of a wide-ranging report on corruption among some of Iran’s well-known officials, just the latest in a long history of scandals.

On Friday, December 18, Mahmoud Sadeghi, a former Iranian parliamentarian, published the full text of an investigation into the corrupt practices of Sarmayeh Bank carried out during the previous parliament, which ran from 2016 to 2020. The report names the nephew and son-in-law of Mahmoud Hashemi Shahroudi, a former head of the judiciary and former chairman of the Expediency Council. He is accused of collaborating with Mohammad Emami, who is himself directly accused of corruption. From 2012 to 2014, companies owned by Emami and Hashemi Shahroudi secured a total of 327 billion tomans [$13m] in loans from Sarmayeh Bank.

The report also investigates Ahmad Hashemi Shahroudi and Mohammad Emami’s 2013 acquisition of real estate that was owned by Sarmayeh Bank located in Lavasan and Shemiran in Tehran province and Fereshteh Street in northern Tehran, totaling more than 400 billion tomans.

According to the report, Hashemi Shahroudi and Emami did not clear the checks they had used to buy these properties until 2016, and after a period, they sold these properties back to Sarmayeh Bank at several times the original price to clear their debts.

This is not the first time that relatives of a high-ranking official have been identified in a corruption case. In this report, we review the financial corruption among the relatives and friends of Islamic Republic officials.



Documents outlining the investigation into corruption and Sarmayeh Bank highlight the involvement of family members of Mahmoud Hashemi Shahroudi, the former head of the judiciary.

It has been officially announced that Ahmad Hashemi Shahroudi, the nephew and son-in-law of Mahmoud Hashemi Shahroudi, is a fifth-degree defendant in the case. However, he did not personally appear in court.

Bagher Hashemi Shahroudi, the son of Mahmoud Hashemi Shahroudi, has also been implicated. He is considered to be responsible for introducing Ahmad Hashemi Shahroudi and Mohammad Emami.

Emami was a classmate of Bagher Hashemi Shahroudi in Qom. He invested in the first season of the expensive television series Shahrzad, and was arrested in 2016 on charges of participating in a corruption scandal linked to the Cultural Fund of the Ministry of Education and "money laundering and bribery in an oil company”. 

A case was also opened against Amar Salehi, the son of Major General Seyed Ataolah Salehi, a former army commander. He was sentenced to 10 years in prison.

A company called the Jahanbani Group was linked to the Sarmayeh Bank scandal, and was the specific focus of the second round of investigations into the case. Jahanbani is said to be in partnership with two other people at the Eghamat construction company: Amar Salehi and Mohsen Jafari.

Although Mohsen Jafari, the son of Mohammad Ali Jafari, the former commander of the Revolutionary Guards, was a partner in the Jahanbani Group along with Amar Salehi, his name was not raised as part of the investigation’s findings.


Son-in-law of Mohammad Shariatmadari and Partner of Ghalibaf's Son

Another defendant in the Sarmayeh Bank case, which has been widely reported in the media, is Hadi Razavi, the son-in-law of Mohammad Shariatmadari, the current Minister of Labor and former Minister of Industry. One aspect of the investigation concerns accusations that Razavi borrowed 211 billion tomans [$8.5m] from several banks but failed to repay these loans.

There has also been media coverage of his dealings with Elias Ghalibaf, the son of Mohammad Bagher Ghalibaf, who was mayor of Tehran from 2005 to 2017 and has been speaker of the parliament since May 2020. Details of his corrupt practices emerged during the 2017 presidential election. Mohammad Ali Vakili, a spokesman for Hassan Rouhani's staff, had said that the mayor of Tehran should answer to the public regarding the financial and commercial accusations against his son. However, the municipality at the time denied that any corruption had taken place.

However, in the second half of May 2017, the Khordad News website published documents revealing Elias Ghalibaf’s financial corruption, reporting that he was a member of the board of directors of the Shams Al-Shamous Educational Institute, with an initial capital of 100,000 tomans, but that he was currently worth more than 20 billion tomans. The institution, which is located in Saadat Abad, Tehran, holds the permit for a non-profit school called Mehr Hashtom.

The charity has also been accused of illegal practices when selling high rise building permits. Members of the Tehran City Council have also repeatedly raised the issue of Mohammad Bagher Ghalibaf’s wife receiving both money and property from the municipality. As of yet, however, no case has been filed against Ghalibaf’s wife or son.


Corruption and Two Larijani brothers

Sadegh Larijani, who was then the head of the judiciary and replaced Mahmoud Hashemi Shahroudi, has also been linked to corruption through family members. Corruption cases against his brothers Fazel Larijani and Mohammad Javad Larijani were filed during his time as head of the judiciary; both of these cases were closed.

In 2012, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad presented a recording of a conversation between Fazel Larijani and Saeed Mortazavi, who was then head of the Social Security Organization, which he used to demand a bribe from Mortazavi. At the same time, Mohammad Javad Larijani published a report about the illegal seizure of more than 342 hectares of national land on the outskirts of Varamin and the illegal keeping of more than 900 sheep and 200 camels on these illegally-seized lands.

As Sadegh Larijani's time as head of the judiciary came to a close, a case against Akbar Tabari, his executive deputy, got underway.


The Dena Rubber Factory Case and the Corruption Scandal Involving Mohammad Yazdi's Son

The death of Mohammad Yazdi, who was the head of Iran’s judiciary from 1989 to 1999, on December 9, 2020, once again drew attention to a historic corruption case linked to him. Abbas Palizdar had accused Hamid Yazdi, Mohammad Yazdi’s son, of financial corruption, based on documents produced by the parliamentary investigation committee, but the accusation did not result in a case being opened against him. Palizdar was a member of the Investigation Board of Iran’s seventh parliament (2205-2009), was tasked with looking into corruption, and spoke out several times in 2008, raising financial corruption among Islamic Republic officials, during which he mentioned Hamid Yazdi by name. Palizdar faced arrest for the indiscretion.

Palizdar also filed a lawsuit over a scandal involving the Dena Rubber Factory and the Women Forensic Science Complex.

According to Abbas Palizdar, the factory, which was worth more than 600 billion tomans, was eventually sold to the Faculty of Judicial Sciences for 10 billion tomans, and the payment for its purchase came from the sale of products from the Dena Factory.

According to Palizdar, Mohammad Yazdi wrote a letter to the Minister of Agricultural Jihad during his tenure as head of the judiciary. He said the letter instructed: "My son Hamid is unemployed. Make arrangements for him to benefit from the northern forests and set up a timber export business.”

Political activist Mehdi Khazali said 3,000 hectares of forest were handed over to Hamid Yazdi, but were taken back from him following what was described as "some disgrace."


Corruption and the Sons of Two Attorney Generals

Mohammad Dori Najafabadi, the son of Ghorban Ali Dori Najafabadi, the first attorney general after the birth of the Islamic Republic, and Mehdi Moghtadaei, the son of Morteza Moghtadaei, the attorney general before him, were both involved in the Shahram Jazayeri corruption case, one of the largest and most notorious corruption cases since the 1979 revolution. Shahram Jazayeri, an economic activist and businessman, was arrested in 2002 at the age of 29 on charges of corruption.

Using a company called Arvin Dnya, Dori Najafabadi’s son and Moghtadaei collaborated with Shahram Jazayeri in the corrupt activities.

Moghtadaei was eventually sentenced to one and a half years in prison and the repayment of what he had taken illegally; Najafabadi was sentenced to one year in prison. There have been no media reports about their imprisonment.


Hossein Fereydoun, Brother of the President

The trial of Hossein Fereydoun, President Hassan Rouhani's brother, was held in private, but Fars News Agency, which is affiliated with the Revolutionary Guards, published an article stating he had been charged with "illegally acquiring property worth 34 billion tomans."

Prior to this, Alireza Zakani, Qom's representative to parliament, along with other members of parliament, had accused Hossein Fereydoun of accepting bribes from Rasoul Danialzadeh, who owed a large debt to a bank.

The representative had claimed that Danialzadeh had given 26 billion tomans to Hossein Fereydoun and two billion tomans to Hassan Najjar, the husband of Fereydoun's sister.

Hossein Ali Haji Deligani, the member of parliament for Shahinshahr, had also said that Rasoul Danialzadeh had given a house worth 16 billion tomans to Hossein Fereydoun's wife. Hossein Fereydoun, however, denied the allegations.


Brother of First Vice President and Partner of Mashaei and Baqaei

Mehdi Jahangiri, brother of Eshagh Jahangiri, Hassan Rouhani’s first vice president, was arrested in 2017 and released a few months later. Gholam Hossein Mohseni-Ejei, second in command of the judiciary, said in October 2017, a few days after Jahangiri's arrest, that he was guilty of financial corruption and owed 1,600 billion tomans to banks.

However, after three years, his case has still not been resolved. In November 2020, an agreement between the Tourism Finance Group headed by Mehdi Jahangiri and the Khatam al-Anbia headquarters affiliated with the Revolutionary Guards setting out 20 trillion tomans [$0.8 billion] for the development of Bonab Steel Complex provoked protests.

Jahangiri's economic activities were at their height during Esfandiar Rahim Mashaei's presidency of the Cultural Heritage and Tourism Organization.

The Alef website reported in May 2011 that Mehdi Jahangiri, along with Esfandiar Rahim Mashaei and Hamid Baghaei, established the Iran Cultural Heritage and Tourism Investment Group known as SAMGA and benefited substantially from rents paid by government officials. They included the transfer of 1,250,000 square meters of land in Lavizan and the rights to build and operate international hotels at Imam Khomeini Airport. Jahangiri's name also emerged in a three- trillion tomans embezzlement case. According to the Zaytoun website, Eshagh Jahangiri "was able to keep his brother safe through personal consultations and follow-up with the Leader's office."


Nasser Vaez Tabasi

Nasser Vaez Tabasi, the son of Abbas Vaez Tabasi, the custodian of the wealthy endowment foundation Astan-e Quds Razavi, had links to the Al-Makaseb case in the early 2000s. Eventually, the court acquitted Vaezi Tabasi and the other defendants and announced that he had returned the money he had received from Bank Melli. The case relied on two reports prepared by the Ministry of Intelligence and the General Inspection Office.

Al-Makaseb had an office in Dubai, and although it was believed that 50 percent of its shares belonged to Bank Melli, it was listed as a private company.

After the appointment of Ebrahim Raeisi (currently head of the judiciary) as the head of Astan-e Quds Razavi, it was announced that Mahdi Azizian, the former deputy of the foundation, had left the country due to financial corruption scandals in the institution.

Several websites have also linked Azizian, who is the brother-in-law of Abbas Vaez Tabasi, the former custodian of Astan-e Quds Razavi, to the scandals.


Principlist Aghazadeh and Wife of a Famous Actor

Yasin Ramin, the son of Mohammad Ali Ramin, the press deputy of the Ministry of Islamic Guidance and Culture during the government of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and the ex-husband of Iranian female actor Mahnaz Afshar, was released on a bail amount of 29 billion tomans. His first court ruling was issued in 2019, but no final verdict has been reached.

Some media outlets have accused Ramin of importing expired powdered milk to Iran, but Amir Mohsen Ziaei, the head of Iran’s Red Crescent Society, has cited a "two-million-euro dispute" as the reason for the legal complaint.

Yasin Ramin, who is a German citizen, had set up a company in Germany, and his father had previously spoken of his son's successful role in circumventing Western sanctions against Iran.


Political and Economic Charges Against Mehdi Hashemi

Mehdi Hashemi, the son of former president and co-architect of the Islamic Republic Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, is currently serving a 10-year prison sentence.

His trial has primarily been linked to 2009 protests, but eventually a spokesperson for the judiciary announced that "embezzlement and bribery" were among the charges for which the court had sentenced him.

Mehdi Hashemi is accused of taking bribes from Norwegian state-owned Statoil to secure contracts in Iran during the company’s 2002-2003 corruption scandal. But Hashemi’s relatives and lawyer claimed the government of Mohammad Khatami's intelligence ministry had rejected a report on the scandal following an investigation.


The list above is long, but it is not exhaustive. There are many other examples of family members of Iranian officials being linked to corruption cases. Among them are Ehsan Mohseni-Sani, the son of Mohammad Reza Mohseni-Sani, the former governor general of Lorestan, and Amir Hossein Azad, the son of Ali Mohammad Azad, the former governor general of Sistan and Baluchistan, Hamedan and Ilam provinces during the administration of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.



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