The individuals and organizations behind one of Iran’s most secretive business networks
The death last year of Iran’s General Qassem Soleimani brought global attention to the Quds Force, the elite IRGC unit he headed. Our previous investigation of Soleimani’s business network reveals that he and his comrades were canny businessmen who used their power and connections to launch private business ventures subsidized by the civilian government. An airline, a bank, a car manufacturer, and dozens of engineering firms in Kerman Province are just some of the businesses that enable the Quds Force to finance its elaborate foreign missions.
Here is a detailed overview of the individuals and organizations behind one of Iran’s most secretive business networks.
1. Parent company: Mola al-Movahedin Charity (MMC)
This charitable organization, or bonyad, forms the heart of the Quds Force’s domestic economic activities. Untaxed and unaccountable to the civilian government, this organization forms the ideal legal framework for the Quds Force’s secretive financial transactions.
Currently, several trustees have IRGC service records. Other executives are either current or retired members of the IRGC or related to IRGC officials.
MMC Trustees and Executives
Hossein Marashi – Chairman of Board of Trustees, Trustee
A cousin of Effat Marashi, Hashemi Rafsanjani’s wife, Hossein Marashi served as the governor general of Kerman for nearly a decade and has held other positions such as vice president for cultural heritage and tourism, Hashemi Rafsanjani’s chief of staff, and MP for Kerman in the Majles. Marashi is the founder of Mola al-Movahedin Charity (MMC) and Mahan Air. He was friends with Qassem Soleimani, according to Khabar Online.
Qassem Soleimani – Trustee1 (IRGC)
It is not clear how long Soleimani was a trustee of MMC, but his brother Sohrab is still affiliated with MMC subsidiaries.
Mohammad Ali Karimi – Chairman of Board of Trustees (IRGC)
Before becoming the governor general of Kerman Province (Oct. 17, 2001–Sept. 16, 2004) in the Khatami administration, Karimi was the intelligence and political deputy of the governor general of Kerman. He has also served as an IRGC commander in Kerman Province. Karimi was the MP for Kerman and Ravar (Qassem Soleimani’s hometown) in the 8th Majles and Hassan Rouhani’s campaign manager for Kerman in the 2016 election. He is the son-in-law of the late influential Kerman cleric Seyyed Reza Khoshrou.
He founded the Development and Liberation of Kerman Province party along with two other MMC colleagues (see below for more information).
Karimi is the current board chairman of Kerman-Bandar Abbas Freeway Construction, Operation and Maintenance Co., which, in addition to undertaking the Kerman-Bandar Abbas Freeway project and benefiting from its completion, is involved in “contracting, urban planning, establishing any and all factories and production lines, construction, any and all economic, trade, industrial, service and contracting work, import-export of any and all products and obtaining international and domestic loans.”
Karimi represents the interests of MMC on the board of several companies. He is the CEO and vice chairman of the Omran Alavi Kerman Development Group.2
Mohammad Javad Fadaei Fathabadi – Trustee
Fadaei Fathabadi was the governor general of Kerman3 until November 11, 2020, when he was replaced.4 In addition to being an MMC trustee since at least 2009, he has represented the interests of MMC on the boards of various companies. Along with Karimi and several other MMC executives, for example, he has served on the board of the Kerman-Bandar Abbas Freeway Construction, Operation and Maintenance Co.
Most notable is Fadaei Fathabadi and MMC’s connection to Pars Aluminum Hanza, which is a subsidiary of Stratus Holding, owned by the Sadr Hasheminejad family. One of the subsidiaries of Stratus Holding is Eqtesad Novin Bank. At one time, both Mohammad Sadr Hasheminejad and Fadaei Fathabadi served on the board of Aluminum Pars Hanza. While Fadaei Fathabadi is no longer on the board, MMC is still involved with the company via Kerman Development Organization and Omran Alavi Mahan Co.
Conflict of interest: At the time Fadaei Fathabadi was appointed governor of Kerman in November 2018, he was still on the board of Kerman-Bandar Abbas Freeway Construction, Operation and Maintenance; he remained in this position until June 2019.
Ali Mostafavi – Trustee
Mostafavi is affiliated with various Kerman-based charities and companies. He was the dean of Kerman’s Bahonar University in the Khatami administration and has served as the head of the Coordination Council of Kerman Province Reformists. He is a trustee of the Bahmanyar University as well as the Haj Ali Akbar Sanati Bonyad. He is also one of the founders of the Development and Liberation of Kerman Province Party (DLKP).
With the exception of two individuals, the following men are both MMC trustees and members of its most recent board of executives:
Hamid Arabnejad Khanouki – Trustee, Board Treasurer (rumored IRGC)
Khanouki is the CEO of Mahan Air, a position he has held for nearly two decades. He also holds positions at several Mahan Air/MMC–affiliated companies, including Pardis Parham Kish and Pardis Lalim Development. Public records show Qassem Soleimani’s brother Sohrab represented one of the subsidiaries of MMC on the board of Pardis Parham Kish while Khanouki was its board chairman. Sohrab Soleimani is still on the board of Pardis Lalim Development.
Khanouki is said to have been close to Qassem Soleimani by opposition news outlets in the diaspora. He is rumored to have an IRGC service record and has family members in the service.
Ahmad Moradalizaeh – Trustee, Board Chairman
Moradalizadeh is involved with various MMC subsidiaries. He is the board chairman of Mahan Air and CEO of Kerman-Bandar Abbas Freeway Construction, Operation and Maintenance Co., which as noted above undertakes major development projects in Kerman. Over the years, Moradalizadeh has held important positions at vital national companies including the Tamin-owned National Iranian Copper Industry Co. and its numerous subsidiaries. He is also on the board of a company called Persian Gulf Water Desalination and Transmission, which aims to desalinate and transfer water from the Persian Gulf to Hormozgan, Yazd, Kerman, and Isfahan provinces. Moradalizadeh is also an advisor to the Ministry of Industries and Mines.
Shariyar Zolali – Trustee, CEO, Board Member
Zolali is on the board of various MMC entities, including Mahan Air (a position he has held for nearly two decades), Khayyer Kerman Trade Co., and Omran Mehr Shahdad. Zolali is also on the board of various Kerman-based charities along with members of the Arabnejad Khanouki family.
Ali Ghazanfari – Trustee, Board Secretary
Ghazanfari was the governor of Kerman from March 21, 1981, to March 20, 1987. He represents the interests of MMC with Hazar Kerman Trade Co. and Karmania Auto Co. and serves on the board of Saman Insurance, which belongs to Bank Saman. Bank Saman and its subsidiaries are affiliated with Sadouq Bonyad, which is overseen by the office of Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei and has ties to former president Seyyed Mohammad Khatami.
Ali Pahlavanzadeh – Trustee, Board Member
He is a member of the board of Kerman Drug Industries Co., which has ties to the Khomeini Shrine Bonyad and the Khomeini Works Publication House, both of which have received billions of tomans in the Iranian budget.
Mohammad Farshad – Trustee, Inspector5
Farshad was the governor of Kahnouj, Kerman Province, in the 1980s. His past positions include director general of the Iranian National Tax Administration office of Guilan Province in the Rafsanjani and Khatami administrations, and intelligence and political deputy of the governor general of Kerman in the Khatami administration.
Possible conflict of interest: Since August 27, 2017, he has been the head of Kerman City Council. Farshad was the board chairman of a company called Farazan Consulting Engineers until October 2019. According to its website, this firm has undertaken major Kerman development projects such as the Kerman Trade Chamber building, Kerman Seminary building, Zarand City Morgue, and the Zarand and Rafsanjan Zoorkhaneh. Farazan Consulting Engineers was founded by Mohammad Javad Fadaei Fathabadi.
Farshad is also one of the founders and the secretary general of the Development and Liberation of Kerman Province Party (DLKP) (see below).
Hamid Aslani – Vice Chairman (IRGC)
Aslani, an IRGC commander, has served as the deputy executive director of the IRGC command, head of the Sacred Defense Documents and Research Center, and vice chairman of the IRGC Retirees Co. He was recently appointed executive director of the Majles by Speaker Mohammad Baqer Qalibaf, himself a former Revolutionary Guard (for more information, see below).
Ahmad Yousofzadeh – Alternate Inspector
Yousofzadeh is an academic and writer6 whose 2015 book, Those 23, about his time as a POW in Iraq was publicly praised by Qassem Soleimani in an open letter implying he had had personal contact with Yousofzadeh. He is one of the founding members of the Development and Liberation of Kerman Province Party (DLKP).
2. Mahan Air (MMC subsidiary)
Mahan Air—100 percent owned by MMC—has been sanctioned by the US Treasury since 2011 “for providing financial, material and technological support to the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps-Quds Force (IRGC-QF).”
The story of Mahan Air’s founding, as told by Marashi, is a mind-boggling account of how the Rafsanjani administration unscrupulously transferred public funds to private businesses owned by Rafsanjani’s relatives. Marashi recounted his version in a 2010 interview, a copy of which can be found on the Shafaf website.
During the Rafsanjani presidency, Egyptian businessman Ibrahim Kamel approached MMC with a business venture. Kamel suggested starting an airline in Iran with four planes he already owned. After meeting with Marashi, the pair agreed on a 50-50 partnership, in which Kamal would cover 100 percent of the startup costs, half of which MMC would pay back over time.
Later, MMC reneged on even this financial obligation when Marashi learned that Egypt owed the Iranian government millions of dollars in unpaid loans predating the Islamic Revolution. Marashi negotiated with then-president Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, a relative of his, to allow Egypt to repay part of this loan directly to MMC by financing the startup costs of Mahan Air. Marashi claims to have repaid the rial equivalent of the debt to the government, but there are no public records of such a transaction ever taking place.
Mahan Air Board Members and Other Executives
Hamid Arabnejad Khanouki – CEO, Vice Chairman (rumored IRGC)
Ahmad Moradalizaeh – Board Chairman
Shariyar Zolali – Board Member
Ali Arjomandi – Inspector
Arjomandi is the inspector for various other MMC subsidiaries including Omran Alavi Kerman Development Group. He was the CEO of Sarcheshmeh Copper Investment Co. until November 2020. He was the vice chairman of Arman Catering, which provides inflight meals for both Mahan Air and Aseman Air, which is a subsidiary of the National Retirement Fund. He continues to have extensive ties to Sarcheshmeh Copper Investment’s many subsidiaries.
Reza Namakshenas – Mahan CFO
Namakshenas is the founder and a board member of several Mahan Air subsidiaries. He has shared business interests with the Arabnejad Khanouki family.
Hamid Aslani – HR Deputy for Mahan Air (IRGC)
Aslani is currently the board chairman of Mahan Safir Mehr Co., which, according to public records, transports flight crews to and from airports, offers customs services, and is involved in import-export and construction and renovation activities. The company was founded by Reza Namakshenas.
Aslani is also the board chairman of Sepehr Kaveh Kish International, an import-export company registered on Kish Island, as are scores of Sepah Cooperative Foundation (BTS) businesses.7 This company was also founded by Reza Namakshenas. Aslani was once on the board of a Mahan subsidiary called Pardis Parham Kish (see below).
Gholam Reza Shams Nouraei – Mahan Herasat (rumored IRGC)
Herasat are Intelligence Ministry branches established in every civilian organization and university in the country, tasked with identifying potential security threats. Herasat officials reportedly surveil employees (e.g., by monitoring their communications), act as informants, and influence hiring and firing practices.
According to an Iran International report, Shams Nouraei was appointed as the new head of the Mahan Air Herasat at the beginning of the pandemic after some Mahan flight crew went to the press about being forced to travel to China during the early weeks of the COVID-19 crisis. It is widely believed that the airline trips to China and lax quarantine measures led to the spread of the virus among Mahan employees and their families. As his first order of business, Shams Nouraei added a confidentiality clause to the contracts of all Mahan employees to prevent them from talking to the press.
Shams Nouraei is also a member of the board of Omran Mehr Shahdad, which is an MMC subsidiary. Omran Mehr Shahdad is another multipurpose company that trains pilots, buys and sells airplanes, helicopters, and gliders, staffs airports, and rents airplanes in addition to being involved in unrelated activities such as “agriculture, production, trade, import-export, tourism, livestock, construction and road and runway construction.”
He is also the board chairman of Botia-Mahan Aviation College and the CEO of Malak Avin Investment, which states its business fields as “any and all permissible trade activities, import-export, investment in other companies through partnership, acquisition or stocks, participation in economic domestic and international projects . . . customs services, management consulting . . . and attracting foreign investment.” Mahan CFO Reza Namakshenas is the board chairman of Malak Avin Investment.
Sohrab Soleimani – Board Member of Mahan Subsidiaries
The younger brother of Qassem Soleimani, Sohrab has worked for a long time in the Iranian prison system. He was director general of the Tehran Province prisons until 2016, and is currently the board chairman of the Prisons Organization Employee Housing Co-op.
Sohrab Soleimani is also a member of the Pardis Parham Kish Company, whose many activities include “founding any production, service, tourism, trade and urban development companies,” “stock trade,” “company mergers, ownership transfers and dissolutions inside the country and internationally,” and “contracting and construction of commercial and residential units domestically and internationally,” and “ any and permissible trade and business activities.”
Pardis Parham Kish was founded by Hamid Arabnejad Khanouki (Mahan CEO), and Reza Namakshenas (Mahan CFO). The company is registered at a Kish Island address.
Sohrab Soleimani is the vice chairman of another Mahan subsidiary, Pardis Lalim Development, which, according to public records, “builds tourist facilities, hotels and apartment hotels, fast-food and seafood restaurants, operates eco tours, related trade activities, participates in government and private tenders,” in addition to “obtaining loans and lines of credit from domestic or international banks and financial institutions.”
Hamid Askari or Asgari ( Arjasi) – Board Member of Mahan subsidiaries (IRGC)
Askari was a close friend of Qassem Soleimani and was involved in creating the 41st Tharallah Division in Kerman, which Soleimani commanded from its inception until the end of the Iran-Iraq War of the 1980s.
Askari is one of the founders and current board chairman of Arman Catering, which provides the inflight meals for Mahan. Its articles of incorporation state that the company can “invest in other companies” and “conduct any and all trade and business activities inside the country and abroad.”
Askari is also the board chairman of Pouyesh Salehin Investment and a founding member of the Emdadgaran Ashura Charity of Kerman, a branch of the Emdadgaran Ashura Charity (EAC), founded by IRGC commander Yahya Rahim Safavi. The EAC of Kerman charity states that it works for “social justice” and “lays the foundation for providing aid, healthcare, education and financial consulting… to the underprivileged.”
One of Askari’s most notable business associations is with a company called Liner Transport Kish (LTK). This company was sanctioned by the US Treasury in 2010 for aiding “terrorist activities outside of Iran.”
LTK’s articles of incorporation state that it “buys, sells, operates, leases, rents ships and watercrafts for the transport of people, goods, fuel and water,” among many other activities. Askari is the board chairman of LTK and founded the company along with Bahman Abolqasemzadeh (vice chairman) and Seyyed Jabbar Hosseini (CEO, board member), the latter of whom was sanctioned by the US Treasury for coordinating Iranian shipments across the Levant as well as to Sudan in 2014.
There is virtually no information available on Bahman Abolqasemzadeh with the exception of two photos of him in military uniform from the Iran-Iraq War, and a report on the Denmark-based Iranglobal website, which claims that Abolqasemzadeh (aka “Black Bahman”) was a key figure in the mass execution of political prisoners in 1988.
3. Pouyesh Salehin Investment Holding (MMC affiliate)
Established in Kerman in 2005, Pouyesh Salehin Investment Holding (PSIH ) has nine subsidiaries including Resalat Bank and Mohammadian Oil & Gas Co., which lists Mahan Air as one of its clients and which has received several “jihadi management” awards.8 Little information is available about PSIH shareholders, but one of its subsidiaries, Kerman Steel Industries, states on its website that Kerman Steel Industries9 was “given to PSIH, whose shareholders are families of martyrs.”
PSIH was founded by:
- Hamid Askari or Asgari ( Arjasi) – Board Chairman
IRGC 41st Tharallah Division, Arman Catering, Pouyesh Salehin Investment Holding. He is connected to at least one company sanctioned by the US Treasury (see above).
- Mehdi Toysarkani – Vice Chairman
- Abdolreza Tahsini – CEO, Board Member
He is the head of the Kerman Province Mining Chamber.
- Majid Qasemi (Pour Ahmadi) – Inspector
Qasemi is connected to Resalat Salehin Fund of Kerman and is a PSIH executive.
- Mohammad Hossein Hosseinzadeh – Inspector
Hosseinzadeh is the current CEO of Resalat Bank. Before he became CEO, he was tried for financial corruption involving the bank in 2018.
4. Ayta Salehin Charity (Quds Force–linked charity)
Public records show that many Mahan Air, MMC, and PSIH executives have direct connections to the late Quds Force commander Qassem Soleimani through a charity called Ayta Salehin.
The earliest records for Ayta Salehin, which was set up for “charity [and] charitable work” and is located at the Bank Resalat main building in Kerman, show Qassem Soleimani was the inspector for the charity, while Hamid Arabnejad Khanouki (Mahan CEO) was the alternate inspector. Hamid Askari (IRGC, PSIH) was the CEO and board chairman, Mohammad Hossein Hosseinzadeh (Resalat Bank CEO) was the vice chairman, Reza Toysarkani (Mahan subsidiaries) was a board member, and Hamid Aslani (IRGC, Mahan HR) and Abbas Farmitani (Mahan city councilman) were alternate board members. When Hamid Askari resigned as CEO, he was replaced by Mohammad Reza Varzandeh (IRGC and BS ties). Varzandeh is the only one of these men still on the board of Ayta Salehin, serving as its chairman and CEO.
5. Development and Liberation of Kerman Province (political group)
This political group was founded by three members of the MMC board of trustees: Mohammad Ali Karimi, Mohammad Farshad, and Ali Mostafavi.
Farshad is named as the secretary general, member of the central council of DLKP, and member of the DLKP strategic council.
Mostafavi is the head of the founding board and member of the central council of DLKP.
Mohsen Barazvan, who is affiliated with the MMC-owned Karmania Auto Co., is the IT advisor for the party as well as a member of its central council. The DLKP website describes Barazvan as the “former secretary of Azad University Islamic Student Council and an economic activist.”
Mohammad Ali Arabnejad, who is a relative of Mahan Air CEO and MMC trustee and treasurer Hamid Arabnejad-Khanouki, is another member of the DLKP central council. He is involved with at least three agricultural and import export companies. The DLKP website describes Mohammad Ali Arabnejad as the founder of Zarand city’s Agricultural Jihad and the first IRGC commander of Zarand.
Other DLKP central council members include former Khatami administration governors, Khatami-era and current Education Ministry officials, former and current mayors, journalists, the head of the Kerman press house, doctors, former and current Kerman Province university deans and professors, former Revolutionary Guards, and former Endowment Organization officials.
Members of the DLKP strategic council are either directly part of the MMC empire or connected to it. Some of the prominent names on this list include:
- Seyyed Hossein Marashi – MMC founder, one of the chairmans of its board of trustees
- Mohammad Ali Karimi – MMC trustee
- Ebrahim Jahangiri – VP Eshaq Jahangiri’s older brother
- Ali Eslami Panah – MP in 8th Majles and current Ministry of Science, Research, and Technology liaison for Majles affairs
- Majid Dabestani – three-time MP for Bam in the Majles (3rd, 4th, 5th)
- Mohammad Farshad – MMC trustee
- Ali Mostafavi – MMC trustee
6. Resalat and Eqtesad Novin Banks
To see the organizational history of these Quds Force–linked financial institutions, see the Quds Force Bankers.
- In an interview on November 16, 2019, Marashi was asked why the financial records for MMC and its holdings had not been released. Marshai responded: “Who should we be reporting [our financial records] to? Allow me to say something. We reached a point where I went and wrote down the minutes of the meeting. I added Mr. [Mohammad Reza] Bahonar as a trustee [for MMC]. I told him to sign [the minutes of the meeting], but he wouldn’t. I pleaded with him until he signed. We also got Qassem Soleimani’s signature. He was also a trustee. We [Marashi] also signed it.”
- This company, which has gone through four name changes, was founded by Bonyad Shahid and later taken over by MMC. Its original board members include Ali Fayaz Bakhsh (on the board of various BTS and EIKO companies), Abbas Kaffash Tehrani (affiliated with Tamin and Ghadir Investment), Hassan Qalibaf Asl (affiliated with BTS and BS companies, and CEO of the Tehran Stock Exchange), Rasoul Saadi (affiliated with various companies connected to the bonyads and Ghadir Investment), and Siavash Vakili (connected to BTS companies).
- Fadaei Fathabadi resigned from his position unexpectedly. He later said that he had no plans to do so, but “things happened and it was decided that he resign.”
- Ali Zeinivand is the current governor general of Kerman. He has held several positions on the Expediency Council, including head of the domestic policy committee and head of the EC task force to draft Islamic Republic general policies on elections and legislation.
- 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.
- Some of his books, such as Sweet Misery, have been published by the IRGC Tharallah Division of Kerman, whose commander was Qassem Soleimani before he moved up in the ranks.
- Iran’s free trade zones (Kish, Qeshm, Chabahar, Anzali, Aras, Arvand, and Maku) offer companies a 20-year tax exemption. Kish Island is a particularly attractive destination for investors as it is close to the UAE, allows for foreign ownership of companies, and entry visas are not required.
- “Jihadi managment” was first used by Ali Khamenei in his Persian New Year address in 2014. The phrase was left open to interpretation. Since then awards have been given to Iranian officials, managers, and families of martyrs to praise them for excellence in “jihadi managment.” The award selection criteria is unclear. IRGC commander Mohammad Hossein Sepehr, who is also SL’s IRGC liaison, is the director of the Jihadi Managment Secretariate which presents the award. A large number of award recipients have been Revolutionary Guards.
- Before its transfer to PSIH, Kerman Steel Industries was owned by Ghadir Investment (military-owned) and Sepah Bank (military bank).
- Reza Toysarkani is on the board of Mahan Air/MMC-affiliated companies: Pardis Lalim Development (CEO) and Pardis Parham Kish.
- The Reconstruction Organization of the Holy Shrines in Iraq (ROHSI) was founded by Qassem Soleimani.
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