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How a wealthy, unelected principlist pulls the strings of his coalition

He’s not an elected official, or even a current government appointee, but principlist politicians need his support to get into parliament. Habibollah Bourbour is a well-connected businessman who bankrolls the election campaigns of principlist (right-wing) candidates and shapes the conservative political landscape of Iran. 

Throughout his career, Bourbour has held executive-level positions in various bonyads, ministries, government agencies, financial institutions, and charities despite lacking the professional background that’s usually considered necessary. His primary qualification for these lucrative posts appears to be his close connection to the family of Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei.

Members of the conservative camp have accused him of manipulating elections by using his political and business clout to remove even prominent politicians from candidate lists and replace them with his cronies.

Bourbour is the secretary general of the Association of Islamic Revolution Loyalists and currently heads the Principlist faction in the House of Parties of Iran, a government-funded umbrella organization of legal political groupings. 

In the 2020 Majles elections, when prominent principlist figures such as Hamid Rasaee were dropped from the conservative list of candidates, critics held Bourbour responsible.

“The son-in-law of one of the members in the [principlist] coalition is on the list,” Rasaee wrote in an open letter. “What are his executive, political, and cultural qualifications?”

A quick look at the list suggests that the relative in question is Bourbour’s son-in-law Mojtaba Rezakhah, a university professor who founded two startup companies in 2019 but had no previous experience in politics. Rezakhah went on to win a seat in parliament.

Rasaee continued to voice his anger, declaring in a tweet that the principlist list consisted of “sponsors, mediocres, sons-in-law and yes men.” Rezakhah claimed via tweet that Bourbour was not involved in his selection. 

Early Career

Public records of Bourbour’s early career are fragmentary. According to Iranian media, he was one of the members of the Khomeini welcoming committee, an influential body that organized the mass celebration of the ayatollah’s return to Tehran from exile in 1979. ‌

By his own account, Bourbour joined the IRGC soon after its inception and was the commander of Imam Ali Barracks, which trains guardsmen— including, opposition groups claim, members of the Quds Force. He describes having participated in the IRGC operation to end the Paveh Rebellion.

Bourbour was also in charge of the assets of the Revolutionary Court, which confiscated the property of “counterrevolutionaries.”

Habibollah Bourbour’s Political-Business Network

Charities

In 2020, Bourbour founded Rahmat-e Vase’eh Bonyad along with Mahmoud Lolachian, who is related to the supreme leader. Lolachian is the father-in-law of Khamenei’s youngest son, Meysam Khamenei. Rahmat-e Vase’eh Bonyad is a charity devoted to the impoverished. 

Bourbour is the current chairman of the board of Khayerin Omid Keshvar, which describes itself as a “non-political, not-for-profit, non-governmental, and volunteer” institution that “facilitates charitable projects and regulates charitable affairs across the country.”

Bourbour is also one of the founding members of the Society of Charities Donating to Women’s Seminaries. This conservative institution’s articles of association state that it was founded to “institutionalize balanced, durable, and religious families based on Islamic teachings,” to “help the independence of seminaries through popular participation and donations,” and to “help women grow to protect family values.” Despite its focus on women’s issues, there is only one woman, Khadijeh Neyzari, among its nine board members. Neyzari is also on the board of Khayerin Omid Keshvar.

Bourbour was also one of the founding members of the National Council of Charities (NCC), an umbrella NGO comprising eight family-owned foundations. Other NCC founding members include former justice and interior minister Mostafa Pourmohammadi, former education minister Hossein Mozaffar, and longtime politician Abbas Sheybani. Bourbour formerly chaired the board of the National Association of Charities Constructing Homes. This charity, where he remains a board member, collects donations to “build cheap homes.”

Government Jobs

‌Bourbour has served in various ministries over the course of his career. 

  • Justice Ministry 

In 2015, then justice minister Mostafa Pourmohammadi appointed Bourbour as his deputy for development and management. Both Pourmohammadi and Bourbour were among the founding members of the National Council of Charities (NCC). The two have a close relationship and when Pourmohammadi launched his presidential bid in 2012, Bourbour became his campaign manager

  • Environment Protection Organization (EPO)

Bourbour was appointed as an advisor to the head of the EPO, Issa Kalantari, in 2017. 

  • Interior Ministry

He ran the Iran Municipalities Organization in 2008 and was appointed to the Interior Ministry’s Social Council in 2018.

  • Education Ministry 

Head of the Organization for the Renovation, Development and Furnishing of Schools for eight years.

  • State Welfare Organization of Iran

He is a member of the Welfare Organization’s Popular Donations Central Council.

  • Agriculture Ministry and Agricultural Jihad

He was the director general of Tehran’s Agriculture Organization for seven years. 

  • Tehran Metro Company 

Public records show that Bourbour replaced Mohsen Hashemi Rafsanjani on the board of this company, owned by Tehran Municipality, in 2013 and remained in this position until at least April 2018. At the time of Bourbour’s appointment to the Tehran Metro Company, his fellow board members included Seyyed Jafar Tashakori Hashemi, a member of former mayor and coservative MP Mohammad Baqer Qalibaf’s network, and Hossein Mohammadpour Zarandi, another close Qalibaf ally and the CEO of Bank-e Shahr. Mohammadpour Zarandi’s brother, Mohammad Ebrahim Mohammadpour Zarandi, is affiliated with the IRGC’s Sepah Cooperative Foundation (BTS) and was named CEO of the BTS-controlled Samen Credit Institution in 2016 (for more, see below at Mellat Financial Group).

Links to Bonyads and Banks

  • EIKO/Parsian Bank  

Bourbour is the vice chairman of Opal Kani Pars Mining and Processing, a subsidiary of Parsian Bank, which is 47.51% owned by the bonyad EIKO.

  • BTS/BTB/Mehr Eqtesad Bank

Bourbour was a member of the board of Mehr Eqtesad Investment Co. in 2004. This company is a subsidiary of Mehr Eqtesad Bank, which belongs to the Basij Cooperative Bonyad (BTB), which is in turn a subsidiary of the IRGC’s Sepah Cooperative Foundation (BTS).

  • BM

He is a former CEO of Bonyad Mostazafan’s Alavi Foundation. 

  • Armed Forces Bonyad

He was the CEO of the Armed Forces Cooperative Organization, also known as ETKA Holding 

  • Islamic Economy Organization (IEO)

He is on the board of Shajareh Mavadat Sadat, one of the 1,200 lending funds and credit institutions owned by the IEO. Another notable board member of Shajareh Mavadat Sadat is Mohammad Ali  Shayesteh Nia, former CEO of the Teacher’s Fund and current member of the Sarmayeh Bank board of directors. Both the Teacher’s Fund and Sarmayeh Bank have been the focus of financial corruption investigations.

  • Family Values Bonyad

Bourbour is one of the founding members and the treasurer of the Family Values Bonyad, which was created in 2011 to promote family values, “strengthen religious beliefs,” and “offer sex education.” The other founders include Mohsen Rafiqdoust and Seyyed Mohammad Hadi Ayazi (a member of the Qalibaf network). The bonyad continues to have well-connected politicians on its board.

  • Social Security Investment Co. (Tamin)

Bourbour was also involved with Tamin holdings. In the early 2010s, he was board chairman and later vice chairman and board member of Sadr Tamin Investment Holding; board chairman and later vice chairman of Tamin Cement Investment Co (over a five-year period); and vice chairman of Fars & Khuzestan Cement Co (for four years).

  • Bank Mellat 

Bourbour has been extensively involved with Bank Mellat subsidiaries, often representing the interests of the bank on various company boards. 

His positions with Bank Mellat subsidiaries include: 

  • Mellat Financial Group — Vice Chairman

This company has ties to BTS and EIKO. Fellow board member Mohammad Ebrahim Mohammadpour Zarandi is extensively involved with BTS companies (e.g., Amin Investment Bank and Tidewater Middle East Co.), Ghadir Investment, and Nogam Oil & Gas. Mohammadpour Zarandi is also connected to EIKO (e.g., Karafarin Bank Leasing) and the Qalibaf network’s Mohammad Baqer Zamir Khorsandi.

  • Behsaz — Board Chairman

The Bank Mellat–owned Behsaz is a trade, service, and investment holding company with 11 subsidiaries, according to its website.

  • Jam-e Mellat Structural Development Management Group — Board Chairman

Bourbour was one of the founding members of Jam-e Mellat Group, which was established on June 24, 2014. The company was dissolved on February 25, 2018. The company’s articles of incorporation show that during its short lifespan it was meant to be an “import-export and investment company” that was a “wholesaler of construction material,” selling and transporting “construction and road work machinery.”

  • Peyriz Bonyan Marsous Behsaz — Board Chairman

Bourbour was one of the founders of this company, launched on July 20, 2011, and he continued to serve on its board for several years. Peyriz Bonyan Marsous was set up to “build commercial  and office complexes,”  invest in “production, industry, trade, agriculture, mass construction,” and “establish subsidiaries and branches  in the country and abroad.” 

Other members of the company’s board include Mehdi Moqaddasi and Seyyed Hassan Qaleh-Noei. Moqaddasi is the current MP for Arak and was formerly the mayor of Karaj. He has been involved with various Parsian Bank (see above) and Bank Mellat companies. Qaleh-Noei is a former board chairman of Tamin-owned Refah Bank’s Mapsa and current vice chairman of Ansar Construction Co (BTS).

  • Nosaz Building and Services Co. — Board Chairman

Bourbour chaired the board of this Bank Mellat subsidiary in 2012. Mohammad Baqer Zamir Khorsandi was his vice chairman. Zamir Khorsandi is a close friend and business partner of Qalibaf. Nosaz Building and Services Co. was dissolved in 2018.

✶ This post is also available in: فارسی (Persian)

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