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Corruption is Khamenei’s way of controlling the government and seizing more power.


Ali Khamenei, the Supreme Leader of Iran, appears to have consciously chosen avoiding transparency and defense of corruption as a way to expand and consolidate his power among the various political factions of the Islamic republic. The unavoidable result has been lawlessness and the spread and systemization of corruption. He can therefore be seen as the head of Iran’s power pyramid and the main factor in the spread of corruption in the system.

Since the beginning of his leadership, Khamenei has resisted any formal or legal oversight, often relying on forces within the regime who sanctify the leader. He has also expanded the scope of this freedom from accountability to the  institutions under the control of the Supreme Leader’s Office, which now hold a stake in more than half of Iran’s entire economy. The number of these institutions and the nature of their corruption have been widely investigated by journalists and researchers.1

In addition, Khamenei has acted whenever necessary to defend the behavior or corruption of groups close to him once their deeds have been exposed to the public. He has recklessly cashed in on his religious and sacred status to defend those who corrupt the economy and has harshly blamed those who expose corruption. The most well-known of such incidents took place in 2011, when the media exposed a 3,000 billion toman embezzlement scandal. The corruption scandal, which involved several government officials and seven state banks, took place during the administration of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. Commenting on the matter, Khamenei gave an introduction on the general harms of corruption, and stunned the public by suddenly adopting a harsh, vulgar tone and saying that “the media should not drag out this issue (of corruption).” He went on to say that “a few [individuals] want to use this discussion to go after officials.” This reasoning shows that Khamenei is more concerned with the reputations of government officials (or those close to him) than he is about corruption or what is described in religious discourse as “the squandering of the wealth of the people” and the further spread of such abuses.

Another prominent case in which Khamenei fought to defend corruption and forbade any official transparency or judicial or legal follow-up involved IRGC commander Qasem Soleimani and Mohammad Bagher Ghalibaf. In February 2022, Radio Farda published leaked audio from a meeting of a number of IRGC commanders, including former commander Aziz Jafari. The highly detailed audio lifted the curtain off of the financial corruption of former IRGC senior commander current Speaker of the Majles Ghalibaf and Qasem Soleimani. Those present at the meeting say that reports had also been made to the office of the Supreme Leader regarding the corruption. 

However, Khamenei described the leaked audio as a conspiracy by the enemy who “slanders the central elements that played a role in the advancement of the revolution; one day it’s the Majles, one day it’s the Guardian Council, and one day it’s the IRGC; today it’s the IRGC’s turn, today they slander the IRGC and try to tarnish it and the great martyr Soleimani.” 

Mohammad Bagher Ghalibaf, who is known as the most corrupt IRGC commander, has survived various corruption scandals from his years of misdeeds, from his time as head of the Anti-Narcotics Headquarters or his tenure as Tehran’s mayor. Although some of those close to him, such as Issa Sharifi2, Ghalibaf’s deputy mayor of Tehran, was tried on corruption charges and is currently serving time in prison, the activities of Ghalibaf himself, his family, and some well-known IRGC personalities went unexamined. In fact, Ghalibaf has since been promoted to higher positions.

Khamenei also intervened in the case of illegal scholarships being issued by the Ministry of Science that occurred during the Ahmadinejad administration and was revealed to the public by the Rouhani administration in June 2014, calling the affair a “mistake.” The Ahmadinejad government, rather than grant scholarships to superior students, granted them to a large number of administration insiders and children of government officials despite their low grades. When stories appeared in the media discussing the quantity of scholarships and some of the names of the recipients, Khamenei called the news coverage “oppressive..iillegal and against expediency and ethics.” Reza Farajidana, the science minister at the time, was censured on accusations of, among other things, publishing and and reporting on these scholarships.

Apart from economic corruption, Khamenei has remained silent in the face of moral corruption on the part of those close to him. One of the most noteworthy and stunning cases involves Saeed Toosi’s sexual abuse of teenagers, which was revealed in 2016. Toosi is a Qur’an reciter known for  performing readings at the Supreme Leader’s personal residence. The case went unsolved. According to the judiciary, a restraining order was issued against Saeed Toosi on charges of sexual harassment. Majles representative Mahmoud Sadeghi revealed that that Supreme Leader’s office had been behind the acquittal of Saeed Toosi on child abuse charges.

The astonished reaction of the Iranian public to Khamenei’s support and the slogans of “death to Khamenei” ringing out across Iranian cities have not caused him to give up or reconsider the path he has chosen. In fact, he has stubbornly insisted on denying the central issue. In 2018, he denied the existence of systemic corruption that some Islamic Republic figures, such as Ahmad Tavakoli, had warned about. Tavakoli had said that the institutions responsible for fighting corruption, such as the judiciary, law enforcement, the Majles, and the National Inspection Agency are not clean institutions and all suffer from various degrees of corruption. Tavakoli went further, saying that corruption could cause the downfall of the Islamic republic. Perhaps it is not far from the truth to say that this is why Khamenei, who is aware of all of these issues, has not wanted to pay attention to this issue after all of these corruption cases involving regime officials have come to light. Corruption is his way of sabotaging the work of governments that did not adhere to his line, and also of controlling and seizing more power.

  1. See here, here, and here.
  2. Issa Sharifi has become a shield for the first people coming under fire in these cases. The same thing happened in the case of Morteza Rafiqdoust, brother of Bonyad Mostazafan leader Mohsen Rafiqdoust, and the person in this case who had no ties to the government was executed, whereas Morteza Rafiqdoust was imprisoned. In the 3,000 billion toman corruption case, Mahafarid Khosravi was executed. See here and here for more information.

This post is also available in: فارسی (Persian)

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