Thirteen years ago, a 24-year-old man appeared on Islamic Republic of Iran Broadcasting’s Glass Triangle program alongside his father and talked about his work as a “freelance” professional. The young man in question was Hossein Shamkhani: his father, the Iranian military general, ex-IRGC naval commander and sitting secretary of the Supreme National Security Council, Ali Shamkhani. In the same interview, Shamkhani senior proudly said he had advised his sons not to go into government work and that their own, private concerns should have “nothing to do” with the public sector.
Now, a shipping company owned by Shamkhani’s two sons, the aforementioned Hossein and Hasan, has catapulted their economic activities into the spotlight. Last Friday it emerged that a vessel owned by their firm, Admiral Shipping Company, had been impounded in western India for the previous 10 days on charges of possessing false documents. The container ship Kabul was sailing under the flag of Saint Kitts and Nevis.
Records show that Admiral Company was incorporated in 2011, when Hossein Shamkhani was 27 years old. Five years later it reported having a carrying capacity of 16,000 TEU (20-foot equivalent containers) and providing transportation services in the Persian Gulf, the Indian Ocean and the Far East. It then partnered with Finnish shipping company ESL to run a 6,500-TEU service direct to Khuzestan’s Imam Khomeini port. The cargo of the Kabul – or its intended cargo – remain unknown.
On Friday ILNA news agency reported the ship’s seizure and quoted an official from the Ports and Maritime Organization as saying: “Since this ship is not flying the Iranian flag, the Ports and Maritime Organization is not allowed to be involved in the case."
The episode is the latest in a string of minor scandals involving the burgeoning financial empire of the wider Shamkhani family. It also came mere days after a leaked 2018 audio file revealed IRGC commanders discussing how best to handle their colleagues’ involvement in a reported $4bn case of embezzlement in Tehran.
A Family Dogged by Shady Business Allegations
Last month Mehdi Sadr al-Sadati, the son-in-law of Guardian Council member Mohammad Reza Modarresi Yazdi, was stripped of his clerical garb by Iran’s Special Clerical Court over his outspoken postings on Instagram. He had repeatedly insinuated that the Shamkhani family and other high-profile Iranians were engaged in self-enrichment and corruption. "What was the aspect of the clergy harmed by my actions,” Al-Sadati wrote in his subsequent complaint to the judiciary, “and that would be preserved if I remained silent?”
In one of his videos, Al-Sadati had claimed that Ali Shamkhani’s wife, Azarmidokht Tabatabaei, owned an apartment complex worth one trillion tomans (US$38m) on Tehran’s infamously expensive Fereshteh Street. He also claimed that companies owned by the Shamkhanis had received “extensive” construction permits in Tehran and nearby Lavasan, Ahvaz and Shush in Khuzestan, and in parts of northern Iran.
Back in 2018 the affairs of Hassan Mir Mohammad Ali, Shamkhani's son-in-law, also came under scrutiny after details emerged about his own vast mansion in Lavasan, sometimes called the “Beverley Hills of Iran”, and those of his father Hadi Mir Mohammad Ali and mother Fatemeh Hosseini, an MP for Tehran and Rey.
Hassan Mir Mohammad Ali was said to have used his own connections to build homes of more than twice the permitted property size, officially as a “contractor”, and then pocket the difference. Tehran Municipality was allowed demolished his mansion, and he later conceded that he had paid six billion tomans in fines for the illegal construction work.
Not long after the mansion became public knowledge, yet another unfavorable news story beset the Shamkhani family, this time pertaining to the bank accounts of Ali Shamkhani’s three-year-old grandson. The young son of Hassan Mir Mohammad Ali and Shamkhani’s daughter Zeinab, had a number of properties registered in his name and several billion tomans in accounts with the semi-bankrupted Caspian Credit Institute.
Other relatives of Ali Shamkhani have also found their business interests in the spotlight at different times, at home and overseas. His nephew Maoud Shamkhani is technical deputy director of the Arvand Free Zone Organization, which last year was the subject of a major Iran International investigation on corrupt procurement and embezzlement involving the IRGC.
Ali Shamkhani’s half-brother Abdolazim Shamkhani, meanwhile, had been made the director of the Ahvaz Municipality Beautification Organization when he was in his mid-20s, going on to become mayor. Last November, Fars News Agency reported that he had since been made head of the Alborz Rural Affairs Office and provincial councils. “Despite the explicit order of the first vice president to avoid last-minute appointments and transfers, he was moved from Khuzestan governor's office to Alborz,” Fars reported, implying cronyism had played a role in the transfer.
Ali Shamkhani's Changing Role
After a decades-long military career, Ali Shamkhani served as defense minister for eight years under Mohammad Khatami and was made secretary of the Supreme National Security Council in 2013. His political orientation appears to have shifted slightly in the last 10 years, aligning himself more closely to the Supreme Leader of the Islamic Republic and openly criticizing serving government officials.
Last year Mahmoud Sadeghi, an Iranian lawyer and ex-reformist MP, issued an explosive account of a conversation he had with Shamkhani on the bloody crackdown during Iran’s November 2019 protests, which was ordered by the Security Council. "I told Mr. Shamkhani, ‘These are [ordinary] people you are killing in the streets," Sadeghi said. “and ‘if people don’t go home, do you plan to kill them all?’. Shamkhani said, 'Without hiding it and without exception, we will take them all out.’"