The story of General Soleimani’s $22 million generosity to Hamas has recently made headlines. But charges of financial corruption against the late IRGC Quds Commander, and against individuals associated with him and the Quds Force, go back a long way. This report revisits some of the allegations that have come to light in the past.
On December 27, 2020, Mahmoud al-Zahar, a co-founding and leading member of Hamas, revealed that he had been gifted some 22 million dollars – in cash, and stuffed into suitcases – at Tehran Airport by none other than General Ghasem Soleimani, the former commander of Iran’s expeditionary Quds Force who was killed by an American drone strike on January 3, 2020 at Baghdad International Airport.
This is far from the first time that stories involving bags filled with money secreted from the Islamic Republic to other countries have made the news. Back in 2010, a number of Iranian MPsc cried foul over news that Iran was delivering cash to Afghanistan and Syria. A few days earlier, on October 23, 2010, the New York Times had reported that Feda Hussein Maliki, Iran’s ambassador to Afghanistan, had handed Umar Daudzai, Afghan President Hamid Karzai’s chief of staff and his most trusted confidante, “a large plastic bag bulging with packets of euro bills”.
After the report was published, President Karzai confirmed his chief of staff had indeed received cash from the Iranian ambassador, but claimed this money was “legally” given to Afghanistan. He added that Iran was helping Afghanistan by delivering 500,000 and sometimes 600,000 euros to the country, once or twice a year.
In another not-dissimilar episode, Hamid Baghaei, Ahmadinejad’s vice president in charge of executive affairs, was handed a decades-long prison sentence for stealing some 3.766 million euros plus $590,000 allocated to the Quds Force for “affairs related to African countries”. In his defense, Baghaei had written that the figures mentioned were a matter “between General Soleimani and Dr. Ahmadinejad”. The real amounts of money at stake and their purpose, he said, were known only to these two people and to nobody else, including himself.
The Counterfeit Ring
Reports of corruption in the Revolutionary Guards’ Quds Force is not limited to transferring cash in suitcases and bags. One of these cases was revealed by Mohammad Sarafraz, former president of the Islamic Republic of Iran Broadcasting (IRIB). The main target of his corruption charge was the Revolutionary Guards’ Intelligence Organization but it made references to Quds Force and an individual named Mahmoud Seif as well.
On November 20, 2017, the US Treasury added the name of Mahmoud Seif, the former CEO of Tejarat Almas Mobin Co, to its sanctions list. Seif was accused of using a subsidiary of his company, Pardazesh Tasvir Rayan Co (trading as Rayan Printing), to import equipment into Iran from Europe that had been used to print counterfeit banknotes. He was also accused of procuring arms for the Revolutionary Guards.
According to the US Treasury, the two companies were at the apex of a network producing fake Yemeni bank notes potentially worth hundreds of millions of dollars for the Revolutionary Guards’ expeditionary Quds Force. The Quds Force has been accused of supporting Houthi rebels in Yemen and passing the counterfeit cash on to them.
In 2011, several opposition media outlets outside Iran reported that a counterfeiting ring had been uncovered in Eastern Europe, and that Mahmoud Seif and his brother Hamid were again involved. The two were also accused here of drug smuggling and working hand-in-glove with the Quds Force.
The Kerman Connection
Soleimani was born in the Iranian province of Kerman and a number of his associates who have been implicated in corruption scandals are from that province as well. Soleimani and his subordinates colluded closely with the financial and construction projects of Hossein Marashi, the spokesman for Iran’s Executives of Construction Party, and a former governor of Kerman. Their financial relationship also extended to entities like Mahan Airline, which has since been blacklisted by the US because of its cooperation with the Quds Force.
Hasan Pelarak was one of Ghasem Soleimani’s most trusted commanders in Iraq and Syria. In 2009, on the orders of Ayatollah Khamenei, Pelarak was appointed head of the Headquarters of Reconstruction of Holy Shrines (HRHS). During his 10-year tenure, millions of dollars were spent on repairing Shia holy shrines in Iraq, although there are no clear or accurate reports on how this money was spent. When a corruption scandal in Bank Sarmayeh broke and the case went into the court, Mohammad Pelarak, Hasan Pelarak’s son, was named as having been involved but never, charged and the case against him was swept under the rug. So too was the case against Mohsen Jafari, the son of General Mohammad Ali Jafari, a former commander of the Revolutionary Guards.
One of names in this corruption case was Mehdi Jahangiri, the brother of First Vice President Eshagh Jahangiri and a partner of Hasan Pelarak. In a letter to Soleimani, former President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad accused him of intervening to secure the release of Jahangiri.
A few months before he was assassinated, General Soleimani removed Pelarak as the head of the HRHS and replaced him with Mohammad Jalal-Maab, another associate from Kerman.
HRHS claims it receives no funds from the government and its finances are wholly dependent on Iranian customers and non-governmental organizations. But a review of government budgets shows that, from 2014 to 2016, it received a total of 876 billion tomans, or more than US$206 million, from the government. Some reports linked this change to another corruption case within the Revolutionary Guards.
The Case of Resalat Bank
Resalat Bank, originally “Resalat Interest-Free Loan Fund”, is another financial entity connected to Soleimani’s associates from Kerman. Ali Akbar Emaratsaz, the president of a branch of Tejarat Bank in Kerman, was named in the court case involving Resalat Bank. The indictment against Emaratsaz stated that Resalat Fund “had a boundless enthusiasm for making itself into a bank and increasing its branches. At times when it had to deal with a shortage of capital, its directors issued cheques without sufficient funds but the defendant was able to cash these cheques at Kerman Tejarat Bank…into inter-bank cheques, and then deposited them into a Resalat Bank account.”
The Case of the Minister of Industry
Ali Reza Razm Hosseini, a former governor of Kerman and Mashhad, was also close to General Soleimani and in September 2020 was confirmed by the parliament as the Minister of Industry, Mining and Trade despite being accused of financial corruption. After doing business in Canada for many years, he returned to Iran and in 2013 was appointed governor of Kerman province with the support of General Soleimani. In the parliamentary session that would see him earn a vote of confidence as the new minister, some MPs stated he had been involved in bypassing sanctions in Canada, but Mehrdad Veis-Karimi, an MP for Khorramabad who spoke against the confirmation of Razm Hosseini, pointed out that “the nature of bypassing sanctions is such that it cannot be proven or disproven”.
During this session many charges of financial corruption against the subject and members of his family were brought up. “Since the early 2000s he has been a partner of Mr. Pooryani, a member of the Kerman mining mafia and, along with his brothers Javad, Mohammad Ali, Mohammad Reza and Mohammad Mehdi, has entered into many deals with mining and steel companies to avoid paying taxes,” said Ardeshir Motahari, the MP for Garmsar.
In spite of all these charges, parliament approved Razm Hosseini for the position. He became a cabinet minister and the judiciary never opened a case to investigate the accusations against him.
The Case of the Three Wives
Another under-scrutinized case is a joint venture between the wives of General Soleimani, General Mohammad Ali Jafari and Mohammad Bagher Ghalibaf, the former mayor of Tehran and current speaker of the parliament. The focus appears to be the Imam Reza Charity Foundation, which belongs to Ghalibaf’s wife.
Morteza Alviri, who was then the chairman of Tehran City Council’s Planning and Budget Committee, said the council had sent 12 corruption cases to the judiciary to investigate, but they had not been pursued. Alviri did not divulge the details but at least one of them involved General Soleimani’s wife.
The Quds Force has been engaged in dubious activities outside Iran as well. Mohammad Bagher Zolghadr, the former deputy commander of the Revolutionary Guard, has said that if ever the government faced difficulties in financing a project, Ghasem Soleimani himself “provided the necessary financial resources.” How much, and where these resources came from, remains a mystery.
Hamas Official Reveals Money Laundering by Ghasem Soleimani, 30 December 2020
Corrupt to the Core: The Long List of Corrupt Iranian Officials, 21 December 2020
Who was General Ghasem Soleimani: Murderer or Hero?, 3 January 2020
The Revolutionary Guards’ Counterfeit Money Man, 22 November 2017