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Vahid Haghanian: Ali Khamenei's Lackey Comes Out of Obscurity

June 23, 2021
Ehsan Mehrabi
6 min read
Vahid Haghanian appeared in the public eye in the 2000s after an early career lobbing for Iranian politicians
Vahid Haghanian appeared in the public eye in the 2000s after an early career lobbing for Iranian politicians
He rose to prominence as a liaison for Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei after Mahmoud Ahmadinejad came to power
He rose to prominence as a liaison for Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei after Mahmoud Ahmadinejad came to power
In 2018 he publicly called out remarks by Hassan Rouhani's vice president Eshagh Jahangiri about the collapse of Mehr Housing Project
In 2018 he publicly called out remarks by Hassan Rouhani's vice president Eshagh Jahangiri about the collapse of Mehr Housing Project

In the course of the 2021 election season, Iranians once again observed the emergence of Vahid Haghanian, executive deputy of the Supreme Leader's office, from the fringes to center stage. Previously known only for accompanying Ali Khamenei to events and conveying messages, Haghanian has recently made headlines with his glowing commentary on the outcome of the vote.

The letter’s publication sparked debate about Haghanian’s role, with some contending he had been marginalized within the office of the Supreme Leader in 2019. What do we know about Vahid Haghanian, and how influential is he?


Back in the 1990s, Asghar Hejazi was widely understood to be Ayatollah Khamenei's chief liaison with political activists. From the 2000s onward this became the understood role of Vahid Haghanian. Not much is known about the latter’s background, and he and other officials in the office of the Supreme Leader generally contrive to keep such things a secret.

In 2019 he was sanctioned by the US Treasury together with eight other members of the Supreme Leader's office. The Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) wrote: "Vahid Haghanian... has been referred to as the Supreme Leader’s right hand. A former military commander, Vahid Haghanian is acting as an executive deputy for the Supreme Leader and usually accompanies the Supreme Leader on social engagements."

In the early days after the 1979 Islamic Revolution Haghanian is said to have been a member of the pro-revolution Islamic Republican Party, which was finally disbanded in 1987. He is known by some as Sardar [Commander] Vahid, although Hussein Sazvar, a well-known eulogist close to Khamenei's office, has publicly stated he is "not a commander."

Despite this, Savzar went on, had Haghanian not been present in the Leader’s apparatus “wolves would have opened their mouths" to "swallow Khamenei... he is protecting Mr. [Khamenei] like a tiger, a leopard."

Vahid Haghanian: From Politicians’ Flunkey to Khamenei’s "Right Hand Man"

In the late 1990s Vahid Haghanian’s name was sporadically mentioned in the context of appearing on behalf of other officials and politicians in the Islamic Republic. He then cemented his position in the early 2000s, appearing at high-level meetings, such as those held to arrange commemoration ceremonies for Ayatollah Khomeini, as an authorised representative of the office of the Supreme Leader.

During the 2009 presidential election, Haghanian again functioned as a formal channel of communication with the Supreme Leader. Ardeshir Amirarajmand, an advisor to Mir Hossein Mousavi, said Mousavi's campaign staff were liaising with the office of the Supreme Leader through Vahid Haghanian, and that Mousavi had contacted Haghanian several times on the day of the vote to point out the apparent lack of ballot papers.

Abolfazl Fateh, another member of Mousavi's campaign, also wrote in his 2009 election diaries that at 11 pm on polling day, he delivered a letter from Mir Hossein Mousavi to the Supreme Leader to Vahid Haghanian. From the latter’s remarks, he wrote, he learned that “the election should be considered over."

At Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s second inauguration ceremony, and in the absence of senior political figures such as Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, it was Vahid Haghanian who instead stood next to Ayatollah Khamenei and Ahmadinejad and facilitated the swearing-in. Later that year, a video circulated of him at one of the Supreme Leader’s public sermons offering to lead Hashemi Rafsanjani across to Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, but Hashemi rejected his proffered hand.

In 2010, after a speech by Ayatollah Khomeini’s grandson Hassan Khomeini was interrupted by Ahmadinejad supporters on June 4, Mohammad Ali Ansari, then-secretary of the headquarters for Ayatollah Khomeini commemorations, wrote a report to Hassan about the incident, in which the name of Vahid Haghanian was mentioned several times.

Ansari protested about the way government officials had been treated in the run-up to that year’s ceremonies, and stated that Vahid Haghanian had “not responded to his calls” between  April 20 and June 4.

Then in February 2011, shortly after reformist figure Mehdi Karroubi was detained, the website Saham News reported that it was Vahid Haghanian who had arrested Karroubi at his place of residence before escorting him and his wife to Heshmatieh Prison, a converted army barracks in Tehran. The incident was described at the time as a “political kidnapping” and ultimately led to Karroubi being placed under house arrest, where he remains to this day.

In March 2012, Vahid Haghanian accompanied Farhad Daneshjou, the newly-appointed president of the Azad University, to an introductory ceremony at the university despite its founders’ objections to the former president’s expulsion. The BBC’s write-up of the controversial event noted that “influential members of the office of Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei” had been present.

Iran 2021 Election Outburst Hard to Interpret

In recent years, Vahid Haghanian has cropped up in a number of other different guises. Some have spoken of his alleged relationship with to Mahafarid Khosravi, an Iranian businessman executed in 2014 over a $2.4bn bank fraud, as well as his having a stake in the private airline  Meraj. These aspects of his CV, though, remain mostly in the dark.

In 2018, some principalists protested against the involvement of Vahid Haghanian in certain matters of state. Regime insider Ezatollah Zarghami wrote that Haghanian had "arbitrarily" interfered in the process of electing Saied Reza Ameli as secretary of the Supreme Council of the Cultural Revolution.

Haghanian then appeared in public to protest against remarks made by Eshagh Jahangiri, the first vice president under Hassan Rouhani, about the collapse of the much-vaunted Mehr Housing Project in Kermanshah. Haghanian called Jahangiri's remarks a "political game" and indeed said: "God damn Mr. Jahangiri."

Despite all this precedent, Vahid Haghanian's note about the recent presidential election was unexpected. He expressed his thanks and appreciation to Mohsen Rezaei, Amir Hossein Ghazizadeh Hashemi and Abdolnasser Hemmati for standing despite the odds, and called Saeed Jalili and Alireza Zakani, who had both dropped out before the vote, mere “cover candidates”.

Even before Ebrahim Raisi’s win, it had long been apparent that some members of the office of the Supreme Leader were more acutely involved in the process than others. Deputy media director Mehdi Fazeli, for instance, waded into the public debate to insist that Khamenei’s views had no effect on the Guardian Council’s selections or the final result.

Vahid Haghanian was not thought to be one such person. Some readers have interpreted his comments as an attempt to bolster his own waning relevance; others, to internal disputes he may be having with fellow officials in the Supreme Leader’s office. Either way, he remains a steward for Khamenei and without this, has little to no political clout of his own.

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