How one industrialist teamed up with clerics and the paramilitary to amass wealth
Sifting through the public records of Iran’s political business empires often leads us to home in on certain businessmen whose names make frequent appearances in the documents. Some, like IRGC founder Mohsen Rezaei, whose name brings up at least 200 business and political connections, are easy to spot. Others, like pasta tycoon Reza Motallebi Kashani, are lesser-known figures whose many business activities are noteworthy because of the people they bring together.
Motallebi Kashani’s vast business network includes more than 94 individuals, including a former Revolution Court prosecutor linked to human rights violations, a Tehran city councilman who served as vice president in the late Hashemi Rafsanjani’s administration, and a Friday prayer leader infamous for stating that inadequately covered women cause earthquakes. Focusing on Motallebi Kashani’s connections helps to illuminate the individual interests that keep members of Iran’s political right beholden to religious and defense institutions.
Motallebi Kashani, who by one foreign newspaper account served in the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), is the current owner of a popular pasta brand called Tak Makaron. The brand formerly belonged to the Sadeqians, a family with other business interests in the food and textile sectors. Kashani assumed ownership of the company in 2018 under murky circumstances, with no public record of the sale.
Aside from various types of dry pasta, the brand sells imitations of US breakfast cereals such as Cocoa Puffs and Nabisco Shredded Wheat. Last year, Tak Makaron reportedly played a part in creating a pasta shortage as part of a price-gouging scheme, according to Eqtesad Online.
Motallebi Kashani has maintained a low profile throughout most of his career, but entered the media spotlight when journalist Yashar Soltani revealed that Motallebi Kashani had gifted a home worth 30 billion toman (about $1.3 million) to Ali Reza Panahian, an Iranian cleric with extensive ties to the ruling elite.
Motallebi Kashani’s network consists of charities, religious institutions, and a range of businesses including pasta factories, international traders, engineering firms, and oil and gas companies. Many of the organizations he is involved with put him in direct contact with the higher echelons of the Islamic Republic, including Friday prayer leaders, current and former ministers, MPs and city council members, Quds Force officers, and members of Supreme Leader Khamenei’s family.
Motallebi Kashani was recently appointed a trustee of Astan Quds Razavi. This bonyad was set up to administer an important shrine in the holy city of Mashhad and is the largest real estate owner and employer in Khorasan Razavi Province. It was recently sanctioned by the US Treasury.
He is also a member of the Welfare Organization’s Popular Donations Central Council along with Habibollah Bourbour, a well-connected businessman who bankrolls the election campaigns of Principlist (right-wing) candidates and shapes the conservative political landscape of Iran. Motallebi Kashani’s son links him to various companies in Canada, the UAE, Switzerland, and the US.
Here is a detailed look at his business and politician connections.
The Complete Network of Reza Motallebi Kashani
Motallebi Kashani is one of its founding members. Another notable member of the organization’s founding board is Mostafa Pourmohammadi, who served as Revolution Court prosecutor (1979–1986), deputy intelligence minister (1987–1999), interior minister (2005–2008), and justice minister (2013–2017). Pourmohammadi1 has been implicated in the massacre of political prisoners in Iran in 1988, according to the BBC Persian-language news service.
Pourmohammadi is one of the founders of Tolo Mehr, an institute of higher education based in Qom, along with Seyyed Mostfa Mirlohi, who is a son-in-law of the late cleric Mohammad Reza Mahdavi Kani, former head of the ultra-conservative Imam Sadeq University and the Assembly of Experts, which oversees the office of the Supreme Leader and appoints a new one in the event of his death.
The organization’s website has since been repurposed for the Mostafa Khomeini Hospital. There is no proof that this entity was dissolved, but it is possible that it was registered under the new name of Khayerin Omid Keshvar.
2. Khayerin Omid Keshvar is a “charity” that describes itself as a “non-political, non-for profit, non-governmental, and volunteer” institution that helps to “facilitate charitable projects and regulate charitable affairs across the country.”
Other founding members include:
- Akbar Ebrahimi – a well-connected conservative with close ties to the powerful echelons of the elite. Ebrahimi recently signed an agreement to build schools in Kerman in a ceremony attended by former Quds Force commander Qassem Soleimani’s brother Sohrab. Ebrahimi has funded the expansion of the Abdolazim and Imam Khomeini shrines.
- Habibollah Bourbour – the board chairman of Khayerin Omid Keshvar and one of the founding members of the National Council of Charities (NCC).
3. Reyhaneh Charity
This charitable organization is owned by Motallebi Kashani, who serves as both board chairman and CEO. It was founded in 2003 with the stated aim of “caring for the elderly and disabled” and “offering hospital services and procuring medicine domestically through donations or internationally through imports.”
Reyhaneh brings together Motallebi Kashani’s long-time business partners Mehrdad Nouri and Mahmoud Khosravikia, and Mohammad Reza Kholqi as well as Ali Reza Jazini. Jazini is a military commander who has held various positions in the Iranian Police (NAJA), including advisor to the SL’s NAJA affairs deputy, commander of the Iranian Prevention Police, NAJA Deputy Coordinator, and deputy secretary general of the Iran Drug Control Headquarters.
Public records show founding members of the charity include:
- Mohammad Ali Hadi Najafabadi – a cleric and politician who translated Khomeini’s pronouncements into Arabic when he was in Paris. He was tried in the Bank Sarmayeh case on charges of “participating in the disruption of the country’s economy through the misappropriation of funds.” In January 2021, he was sentenced to five years in jail, 74 whip lashes, and a lifetime ban from holding government positions. Najafabadi was a key figure in the Iran-Contra scandal as one of the individuals who negotiated on behalf of the Islamic Republic with US Marine Corps officer Robert Macfarlane.
- Seyyed Mansour Razavi – a politician, former Rafsanjani VP, and Tehran councilman. Razavi has been a trustee of Jameh Talimat Eslami, an influential religious entity that operates religious schools – and Esra Research Institute, which belongs to influential cleric Abdollah Javadi Amoli’s2 son Morteza.
- Ahmad Nateq Nouri (the brother of Ali Akbar Nateq-Nouri3) – a former MP (1st, 3rd–8th Majles).
- Mohammad Nafarieh – a long-time State Welfare Organization of Iran official.
- Alireza Fallah Mirzaei – a former tax prosecutor and member of the committee to prosecute the bureaucratic infractions of banks and insurance managers and employees.
4. Cancer Charity
Motallebi Kashani is one of the founding members of this charity, which was established in 2012. Other individuals on its founding board are:
- Kazem Zendehdel – director of the Health Ministry’s Research Development Center, as well as the director of the ministry’s Disease Registry and Outcomes program.
- Alireza Zakani – Principlist politician, former Tehran MP (2004–2016), and current Qom MP, head of the special committee to review the JCPOA, and according to Iranian news media closely affiliated with Jahan News Website4.
5. Ghadir Charity Bonyad FKA Ghadir Velayat Alavi Charity
Motallebi Kashani is one of the founding members of this charity, which was established in 2013 to “prepare the grounds for the emergence of Mahdi,” the 12th Shia Imam. At the time, the board chairman of this bonyad gave an interview to Resalat newspaper in which he revealed that clerics Ali Reza Panahian and Mohammad-Hassan Aboutorabi Fard were also involved in this charity. Panahian recently made headlines when it was revealed that he had received a house worth 30 billion toman (about $1.3 million) from Motallebi Kashani. Panahian’s daughter is married to one of Mahdavi Kani’s5 grandsons.
Aboutorabi Fard is one of Tehran’s interim Friday prayer leaders and a member of the Tehran Seminary’s Management Council. One of his daughters is reportedly married to one of Motallebi Kashani’s sons. Aboutorabi Fard and Panahian have shared business interests.
Other notable individuals on the founding board of this charity include:
- Mostafa Mirlohi (Board Member) – The son-in-law of the late head of the Assembly of Experts Mohammad Reza Mahdavi Kani. The Kani clan is related to Ayatollah Khamenei through marriage.
- Ebrahim Ansarian (Treasurer) – The late Mohammad Reza Mahdavi Kani’s other son-in-law and chief of staff.
- Morteza Nabavi (Board Chairman) – former editor-in-chief and managing editor of Resalat newspaper, former minister of Post and Telegraph and Telephone, former MP (4th, 5th Majles), and current member of the Expediency Council.
- Davoud Maddadi (Vice Chairman) – Maddadi was caretaker minister of Cooperatives, Labor, and Social Welfare (Aug 2005–Nov 2005), CEO and board chairman of the Social Security Organization of Iran (also known as Tamin; Nov 2005–Oct 2006), CEO of Kish Free Zone Organization (April 2008–July 2009), and Qalibaf’s campaign manager on Kish and Qeshm Islands in the 2013 presidential election.
6. Iran’s House of Charities (Khaneh Khayyerin Iran)
Founded in May 2004, this institution’s articles of incorporation state it was set up to “promote the culture of benevolence and charity in the country,” “prepare the grounds for increasing public participation in charitable affairs,” “strengthen the financial means of charitable institutions,” “work towards developing relations between Iranian charities and institutions, and international ones as well as the exchange of experience,” and “work towards gaining public trust in the activities of charitable institutions.”
Aside from Motallebi Kashani, other notable founding board members include:
- Mohammad Ali Hadi Najafabadi (board chairman) – He is also on the founding board of Motallebi Kashani’s Reyhaneh Charity (see Reyhaneh entry for full details).
- Seyyed Abdolmahdi Mousavi Al-To’meh (founding member) – He was a close friend of Imam Mousa Sadr (related to the Khomeini family) and once considered the richest man in Iran. Al-To’meh was one of the founders of Jameh Talimat Eslami6, a religious educational institution and publishing house. Before his death in 2015, Al-To’meh was involved in establishing several other religious bonyads, institutions, and charities, with which his sons are still involved.
- Azizollah Alaedini (founding member) – He was a factory owner who founded Golbaft Industrial Group, Khazar Tile Industries, and Chauffagekar Industrial Co. According to Iranian media, before his death in 2018, Alaedini was a trustee and board member of the Kahrizak Home for the Elderly and Disabled7. He was a member of the Iran Chamber of Commerce. He was also on the board of several entities related to the Khamenei family members, including the Daftar-e Nashr-e Farhang-e Eslami8 publishing house and the Iranian Anti-Tobacco Association9.
Motallebi Kashani is involved with two major religious institutions that connect him to the top echelons of the Islamic Republic’s power elite.
1. Allameh Asgari Institute
Motallebi Kashani is one of the founding members of this institute, which was established in June 2005 to “conduct research is Islamic sciences and publish its findings in different languages,” “open libraries and send missionaries” to different corners of the world and “translate Islamic books and publish magazines.” Other founding board members include:
- Asadollah Amir Aslani, a former Bank Melli CEO tried for corruption but mysteriously exonerated in 2003.
- Seyyed Kazem Askari Majd, the son of Allameh Asgari and also a trustee of Usul al-din Institute of Higher Education, which was founded by Allameh Asgari in Baghdad and later relocated to Iran.
- Ayatollah Mohammad Ali Javdan, described as an ethics teacher who preaches to the religious and contributes to the Khamenei cult of personality, endorsing his leadership.
- Abolqasem Shafiei, a businessman, politician, and founder of the Shahr-e Rey IRGC who also became a Tehran IRGC commander. He was connected to the Imam Khomeini Relief Foundation. He died of COVID-19.
- Ayatollah Ali Eslami Qaraati, the founder of Be’sat Foundation, which publishes books and does charitable work. He has also been credited as the founder of women’s seminaries in Iran. He also passed away in 2020.
- Hojjatoleslam Yadollah Habibi is the speaker of the Resistance Front of Islamic Iran, a political party founded by Mohsen Rezaei. He is also a board member of the Sobh Qarib Iranian Foundation—a small cultural NGO and media outlet that brings together a group of IRGC officers and right-wing clerics. Habibi previously represented Khamenei’s interests at the Defense Ministry and was appointed as the advisor of the secretary general of the powerful right-wing Combatant Clergy Association party in 2014.
2. Andishehaye Imam Khomeini Culture and Research Institute
Established on April 21, 2012, the institute’s articles of association say it is a “seminary” institution whose mission is to “set up centers in elementary schools, high schools, and universities to encourage students to join the clergy.” Motallebi Kashani is one of its founders.
Other members include:
- Kazem Rajabi Seddiqi, Tehran’s interim Friday prayer leader, is one of the founders of this institution and the chairman of its board of trustees. He is also the founder and custodian of Imam Khomeini Seminary and deputy director of the Tehran Seminary’s Management Council.
Seddiqi is board chairman, as well, of Ghadir International Bonyad, where according to public records Khamenei family members Mahmoud Lolachian (Meysam Khamenei’s father-in-law) was and Mostafa Mirlohi (Mahdavi Kani son-in-law and related to the Motahari clan by marriage) is a board member. He is a board member of Khademin Maktab Sorkh,which publishes religious-themed books.
Seddiqi heads the Enjoining Right and Forbidding Wrong Headquarters, which forces Iranian citizens to conform to strict Islamic laws. Since 2018, he has been a trustee of Tehran Province’s Islamic Azad University. Seddiqi is known for making outlandish comments in his speeches. He made international headlines in 2010 and set off the international boobquake movement. In the aftermath of the contested 2009 presidential election, Seddiqi claimed in one of his Friday sermons that protesters had received 50,000 toman per anti-regime slogan chanted and 200,000 toman per anti-regime act carried out.
- Gholam Reza Fayyazi is another founding member and trustee of this institute. In 2020, Fayyazi was appointed as the representative for North Khorasan Province in the Assembly of Experts, which oversees the office of the Supreme Leader and elects new ones in the event of the previous one’s death.
He is a member of the Qom Seminary Academic Degree Council, which is tasked with the accreditation of all academic degrees issued by the seminary.
- Mohammad Hosseinzadeh Hejazi stands out among the founding members of Adishehaye Imam Khomeini Institute, as he is IRGC and was recently appointed as Deputy Quds Force Commander.
He was deputy commander of the IRGC’s Tharrallah Headquarters, which is tasked with the security of the Iranian Capital and put down unrest during the protests that followed the 2009 presidential election.
Seyyed Mehdi Khamoushi is a cleric with close ties to Ayatollah Khamanei as well as Majles Speaker Qalibaf and other members of the Islamic Republic ruling elites. Just like Kazem Rajabi Seddiqi, Khamoushi is also a member of the Tehran Seminary’s Management Council, serving as the secretary of the council.
Domestic Business Interests
1. Tak Makaron
Established on August 28, 1994, Tak Makaron is one of the major pasta brands in Iran, the owners of the company, the Sadeqian family, were forced to sell the company in 2019. The Sadeqian family are responsible for some of the biggest business ventures in Iran including Setareh Kavir Yazd Carpets.
Motallebi Kashani is currently the board chairman of Tak Makaron.
2. Ard Daran
Established in 2003, Ard Daran is a flour milling unit that belongs to Tak Makaron. Motallebi Kashani is currently the board chairman of Ard Daran.
3. Taksaran Parmis Trade Co
Established in May 2011, Taksaran Parmis is part of the Tak Makaron group. The company was originally established to “procure, and distribute any and all permissible products, investment in domestic or international public, private and co-op companies, marketing, import-export, and procuring raw material,” but in 2020 the company’s charter was changed and it is now geared toward providing urban transportation services, product packaging, packing and moving furniture, and freight shipping and transportation. This change in the charter is not reflected on the company’s website.
Motallebi Kashani is currently the board chairman of Taksaran Parmis.
4. Pars Eqtesad Tin
According to its articles of incorporation, this company is involved in “trade, production, montage, packaging and import-export,” “customs broker for raw materials, vegetable, animal, food, medicine, textile, celuloze, metal, chemical products,” trade activities pertaining to “equipment, machinery, software and hardware systems,” and “participation in domestic and international expos.”
Motallebi Kashani is currently the board chairman of Pars Eqtesad Tin.
5. Farayand Petro Gas Tin
Established in February 2013, the company was dissolved in February 2017.
This oil and gas company was established to “import-export, procure and sell various industrial products, conduct any and all legal trade activities with individuals, legal entities, public or government organizations, packaging … joint ventures with international and domestic companies and obtaining licenseship from any companies in the oil, natural gas and petrochemical industries.”
Before its dissolution, Motallebi Kashani was its board chairman.
6. Tin Sazeh Payvar Technical and Engineering
Established in January 2013, Motallebi Kashani was chairman of Tin Sazeh Payvar’s board of directors. The company was set up for “procuring, designing, producing and assembling industrial, automatic, mechanical, electrical and diaphragm valves, spigots and faucets … any and all imports and exports … obtaining loans and lines of credit from banks and financial institutions… opening LCs… , participating in domestic and international, government and private tenders and contracts.” It was dissolved in March 2016.
7. Alvand Hospital and Maternity Care
For unexplained reasons this hospital was given to Motallebi Kashani on July 4, 2008, and dissolved by him less than a year later, although public records do not reflect the dissolution until 2013. Motallebi Kashani was board chairman, shareholder, and treasurer of the hospital.
An account of what happened can be pieced together through news items such as a labor website’s copy of an ILNA story, which is no longer available in ILNA archives. It appears that on March 17, 2009, Alvand Hospital’s new shareholders—i.e., Motallebi Kashani and his business partner, Mehrdad Nouri—informed staff that the hospital would be closing for good. The 250 employees, shocked about losing their jobs just a few days before the Persian New Year (March 21), staged a protest in front of the hospital.
At the time, one protester told ILNA that some hospital staffers had been previously laid off because of what they were told would be renovations to the facility. A member of the hospital security added that the new shareholders had created countless problems after taking over, and despite promising to “increase salaries and improve the quality of life for staff they closed the hospital.”
According to the hospital.ir website, the private hospital was turned into a “commercial property.” Whether or not that was always the plan, the former hospital is located very close to major shopping centers like Alaeddin Mall, Iran Mobile Market, and Charsou Mall.
8. Cedar Medad Iran
This company, a producer of school supplies, was dissolved in 2018. But public records show that in 2006, Motallebi Kashani was its board chairman, while Ayatollah Mohammad Reza Mahdavi Kani, the late head of the Assembly of Experts, was a board member.
9. Maghz Medad Rayen
Another company connected to Cedar Medad, this one produced pencil lead. Motallebi Kashani became its dissolution manager in 2006.
Motallebi Kashani’s Son and Their Business Interests in Canada
Through his son Abdolreza, who also goes by A. Reza Kashani, Reza Motallebi Kashani has extensive ties to Canada, where he makes sizable donations to charities such as St. Paul’s Foundation in Vancouver, to which he gave $2 million in 2015 and an undisclosed amount in memory of his daughter Zahra Motallebi Kashani10 in 2019–2020.
- In 2019, contradicting the official narrative, Pourmohammadi acknowledged that the serial killing of intellectuals was carried out by the regime and not rogue elements. The men who planned and committed the killings were led by an advisor to the intelligence minister.
- Javadi Amoli was appointed chief justice of the Amol Revolution Court by Khomeini. He was the representative for Mazandaran in the 1st and 2nd Assembly of Experts, he delivered Khomeini’s letter to Mikhail Gorbachev in which he tried to convert the Soviet leader to Islam, and he was Qom’s Friday prayer leader – a position he resigned from in 2009.
- Ali Akbar Nateq Nouri is a politician and former Iranian interior minister, Majles Speaker, and MP.
- Jahan News is considered the mouthpiece for the Society for the Adherents of the Path of the Islamic Revolution (Rahpouyan), a political party founded in 2008. Rahpouyan’s founding members include individuals such as Fariduddin Haddad Adel, Mojtaba Khamenei’s brother-in-law, and Mehdi Taeb, whose brother Hossein heads the IRGC Intelligence organization. Mehdi Taeb heads the Ammar Cyber Headquarters which was formed after the 2009 protests to “combat enemy soft war” and his deputy is Ali Rreza Panahian.
- Before his death, Mohammad Reza Mahdavi Kani headed the Assembly of Experts, which oversees the office of the supreme leader. Mahdavi Kani’s older brother is Mohammad Baqer Baqeri Kani, whose son Mesbaholhoda is married to Ali Khamenei’s daughter Hoda.
- Mahmoud Lolachian is the current board chairman.
- Where he served alongside Nahaleh Naraqi.
- Ali Khamenei’s sons Mostafa, Massoud, and Meysam; Hoda Khamanei’s husband, Mesbaholhoda Baqeri Kani; Meysam Khamanei’s father-in-law, Mahmoud Lolachian; and Lolachian’s other son-in-law, Mohsen Chini Foroushan, are all connected to this institution.
- Mahmoud Lolachian is a trustee.
- P. 22.
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