Eight scandals featuring the former bonyad exec’s business network
IRGC co-founder and former Bonyad Mostazafan (BM) executive Mohsen Rafiqdoust, 81, has enjoyed an illustrious rags-to-riches career. Yet his tenure as CEO of Bonyad Mostazafan and as head of at least seven of his own charities has been mired in scandals, some leading to the arrests of his close associates. Below is an overview of eight corruption cases involving Rafiqdoust or members of his network.
1. Sex Trafficking
Rafiqdoust’s Nour Foundation was at the center of a scandal in 2000, when it was accused of funding a brothel. Rafiqdoust himself acknowledged that his foundation was funding a center called Guidance House (aka Yas House), which was created to rehabilitate sex workers and socially excluded young women, according to the Islamic Student News Agency (ISNA). A 2000 news report revealed that Yas House clients were being forced into prostitution and, according to some allegations, trafficked to Dubai. Most records of this incident have since been scrubbed from the internet.
2. Luxury Imports
Officially a charity that caters only to orphans who are known as Sadat, or the descendents of the Prophet Muhammad, Etrat Fatemi has connections to influential bonyads like Astan Quds Razavi and Imam Khomeini Relief Fund. According to public records from the Majles, Etrat Fatemi was also involved in importing automobiles and attempted to exploit a prerevolutionary customs law (Article 37 customs tax) that exempts charities from paying customs tax and fees.1 Rafiqdoust is a member of its board of directors.
3. Money Laundering
Another member of Etrat Fatemi Charity is CEO Seyyed Sadat Nayeri, whose daughter Zahra sits on the board of two other charities: Boutorab Khoy Charity and the National Network of Charities Supporting Orphans. Mohammad Ali Hadi Najafabadi , who was sentenced in the Sarmayeh Bank case, also serves on both of these institutions’ board of directors. In this embezzlement case, fake trusts and shell companies were fraudulently registered in the names of taxi drivers and low-level employees for the purpose of money laundering, according to Khabaronline.
4. Environmental degradation
- Ebrahim Asgarian Damavandi – Vice chairman
Ebrahim Asgarian Damavandi, another notable Etrat Fatemi board member, is one of the wealthiest men in Iran. He is the founder of Kaveh Glass Industrial Group, a holding established in 1984. He is on the board of several organizations and charities connected to the Khamenei family.2 A student activist from Sahand University found one of his factories in Maragheh, East Azarbaijan, responsible for groundwater contamination due to improper waste management for which Damavandi has not been held accountable, according to a report by the Student News Network (SNN).
5. Illegal Construction
Majid Shayesteh, another Etrat Fatemi board member , is a former board member of Bonyad Mostazafan’s Museums Holding. His links to Bonyad Shahid and IRGC Cooperative Foundation (BTS) companies include the Iran Mall project. In 2019, Tehran Municipality found the project violated land use ordinances based on illegal permits issued by former mayor Mohammad Bagher Qalibaf, himself an IRGC cadre. Iran Mall International Development Co. was originally founded as Arzhang Energy Development Investment Co. and went on to become Siraf Investment Co. It was a BTS-owned company until April 2015, when Ayandeh Bank took control of it. It is standard practice among companies linked to major bonyads to go through repeated name changes to conceal beneficial ownership and parastatal affiliations.
Akbar Ghamkar, a former general manager of Persepolis Football Club, is linked to Rafiqdoust via Ahdaf Nikan Charity. Ghamkar accepted bribes from his IRGC-linked associates who used their connections to the Guardian and Expediency councils to enable the national broadcaster IRIB to dodge broadcasting fees required by the Asian Football Confederation, overriding Majles legislation and damaging the international reputation of Iranian sports clubs.
Seyyed Baqer Sakhaei, a former diplomatic envoy to Qatar and Tunisia, is linked to Rafiqdoust via Mahd-e Quran Karim Charity. Seyyed Baqer Sakhaei’s son Ehsan Sakhaei was named in the Bank Mellat corruption case. One of Ehsan Sakhaei’s companies, active in Iran’s oil swap deals, had only paid back $19 million of a $25.3 million loan to Bank Mellat after seven years and now owed the bank nearly $6 million of the loan and $15 million in interest, according to a Shargh newspaper report citing court documents from 2019. Ehsan Sakhaei is also the son-in-law of Iran’s current intelligence minister, Mahmoud Alavi. Ehsan Sakhaei was not charged or prosecuted in connection with the case.
The Bank Mellat case is related to an embezzlement case involving the former CEO of the bank, Ali Divandari. Divandari is also one of the defendants in another embezzlement case tied to Akbar Tabari, the deputy of former judiciary chief Sadeq Amoli Larijani.
Rafiqdoust’s brother Morteza Rafiqdoust, the former head of the Islamic Revolution Committee of Sa’adabad 3, was convicted in a 123 trillion toman ($473 billion)4 embezzlement scandal involving Saderat Bank. The trial resulted in businessman Fazel Khodadad’s conviction as a “corruptor on earth” and his subsequent execution within five months of sentencing. Morteza Rafiqdoust was sentenced to life imprisonment, but his sentence was subsequently commuted to eight years, during which time he enjoyed extraordinary privileges.5
Morteza currently sits on the board of Dolatabad Trade, Construction and Technical Co (see above) and was previously a board inspector 6 for Shafa Teb Naman where his son Alireza Raqfiqdoust was an alternative inspector.
Mohsen Rafiqdoust, who was not prosecuted in the case, had extensive dealings with Khodadad. The businessman purchased plots of land in north Tehran, including property owned by BM, which Mohsen Rafiqdoust headed at the time. Some accounts suggest that Khodadad directly deposited the sum for the BM plot of land into Mohsen Rafiqdoust’s personal bank account, but that Rafiqdoust later returned the sum to authorities. When Khodadad fled the country, Rafiqdoust coaxed him back to face trial, promising clemency, according to a 2015 interview with Mashreghnews: “I reminded him of my background and told him if he doesn’t come back [to Iran,] I’m going to have him brought back in a burlap sack. I told him, come back [voluntarily] and I will show you mercy.”
- The actual cabinet memo about this charity is missing and the Majles link is the only reference to it in government records. The record indicates that the Ahmadinejad cabinet discussed and approved auto imports by the charity, but because the Economy Minister apparently failed to state in the official memo that the institution was a charity, the Majles considered it unlawful. The cabinet memo on the incident has been struck from the record and it is unclear whether any action was taken to designate Etrat Fatemi as a charity in government records following the Majles response. There are no media reports about auto imports by Etrat Fatemi. The charity’s articles of incorporation are unavailable so it cannot be verified whether its mandate allows it to conduct business dealings. According to the Khairieh website, Etrat Fatemi was set up for general charity and charitable work as well as facilitating marriage, women’s, and family issues. According to the National Network of Charities Supporting Orphans website, Etrat Fatmei’s charter does not include “trade, import-export and any economic activities to facilitate the objectives of the charity.”
- These charities include: Enfaq Sols Charity, the Association of Charities Supporting the Expansion of Seminaries, and the Iranian Anti-Tobacco Association.
- The Islamic Revolution Committees were a paramilitary force tasked with patrolling the streets to enforce Islamic codes of dress and behavior and dispatch impromptu justice to perceived enemies of the 1979 Revolution. During Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani’s first term as president, Iran’s police, gendarmerie, and revolution committees were merged to create Iran’s new police force.
- The exchange rate in 1373 (1995) was 263 tomans to 1 dollar.
- Saderat Bank’s lawyer in the case, Saleh Nikbakht revealed in an interview that while in prison Morteza Rafiqdoust was appointed as Evin’s “purchasing agent,” which meant he was free to leave anytime he wanted prior to the commutation of his sentence. Mohsen Rafiqdoust vehemently denies this.
- In Iranian business structures, a corporate inspector oversees the work of the board members, can inspect the company’s financial books, and has a say in the company’s financial decisions.