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Despite his links to crime and corruption, Mohsen Rafiqdoust controls prestigious private schools
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 head of at least seven of his own charities has been mired in no less than eight corruption scandals, including one involving sex trafficking. Despite these scandals, Rafiqdoust has remained influential in a vast network of do-gooder organizations, many of which work with children and young people. His name is associated with seminaries, orphanages, and a chain of private schools.
Nour Foundation was at the center of a scandal in 2000, when it was accused of funding a brothel. Rafiqdoust himself acknowledged in a 2002 interview 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. A 2000 news report revealed that Yas House clients were being forced into prostitution and allegedly trafficked to Dubai. Most records of this history have been scrubbed from the internet.
Rafiqdoust claimed in 2002 that the entire case was a misunderstanding and the result of “a mother and father fighting over their daughter.” He also claimed all suspects in the case were exonerated in court except for one war veteran, who had been sentenced to a few months in jail and was “waiting for his appeal.” This contradicts a now unavailable Iran newspaper story about the incident, which lists numerous suspects in the case, including the former head of the Karaj Revolutionary Court, Hadi Montazari Moqaddam. These individuals all received prison sentences, according to the Iran report, as well as lashings and confiscation of the illegal gains from their criminal enterprise.
Rafiqdoust wields considerable influence in private religious schools whose pupils undergo special ideological screenings and are trained to become members of Iran’s ruling elite.
1. Ayin Roshan Cultural Bonyad
This bonyad operates schools and acts as a publisher. Mohsen Rafiqdoust is currently the chairman of its board of directors. Some of its notable past and present board members include:
- Mahmoud Karimi Nouri – former BM caretaker and one of BM’s founding members.
- Mohammad Hossein Zolfaqari – an importer of iron ore and owner of several ISP companies including Sabanet, Helma Gostar Talash,1 and Parvaresh Dadeha (DP), a network security and information technology firm.
- Mohsen Chiniforoushan – a trustee of this bonyad. Chiniforoushan is Mahmoud Lolachian’s son-in-law and Meysam Khamenei’s brother-in-law.
2. Islamic Coalition Martyrs’ Cultural Institution
This institution is related to the Islamic Coalition Party and operates a series of schools in Tehran Province. Rafiqdoust is its vice chairman and his nephew Reza Rafiqdoust is a board member. Other notable board members and trustees include Asadollah Badamchian (secretary general of the Islamic Coalition Party and former MP), Mohammad Ali Amani Hamadani (former Evin Prison warden), and Seyyed Ali Yazdikhah (current MP for Tehran).
3. Ayatollah Seyyed Ali Ghayouri Cultural and Educational Institute
This for-profit institute, created in the name of the late Ayatollah Ghayouri, is involved in “opening private schools from kindergarten to high school and trade school,” conducting “university entrance exam preparation classes,” “opening educational centers and institutions for teaching languages, IT, virtual school,” “opening gyms, recreational centers and art schools,” and “the construction of suitable structures for educational purposes.”
Its articles of association stipulate that the institute can “invest in government, public, and co-op sectors” and “use financial and non-financial donations from individuals and institutions” and “obtain loans and lines of credit.”
Rafiqdoust, Ala Mir-Mohammad Sadeqi, Ali Haji Seyyed Soleiman, and Seyyed Ali Naqi Khamoushi are all partners in the institute. Ebrahim Asgarian Damavandi is a board member.
4. Rah-e Shayestegan Cultural and Educational Institute
Rah-e Shayestegan is a private school that admits elementary, middle school, and high school students.
Mohsen Rafiqdoust and his brother Mohammah Javad (d. 2020) were both trustees of this institute. Before his death, Mohammah Javad Rafiqdoust was also chairman of its board of directors.
Other individuals connected to this institute include:
- Ala Mir-Mohammad Sadeqi – trustee and board member.
- Azizollah Alaeddini (d. 2018) – the late founder of Golbaft Blankets was a trustee.
- Mehdi Hariri (d. 2018) (see above) – trustee, inspector.
- Seyyed Jamal Sadatian – a film producer who is the institute’s CEO and one of its trustees.
- Ali Hassani Rouzbahani – board member. Rouzabahani was the commander of the BM Basij until 2020 when he was removed from his position pursuant to a law banning the employment of retirees in BM. Public records show that Rouzbahani was also formerly on the board of Alavi Foundation.
5. Tollou Cultural Institute
This institute operates a series of schools that aim to “raise religious girls who have Islamic ethics and will become skillful mothers in the future,” according to its website.
Public records show that over the years a long list of well-connected businessmen with considerable clout in the Tehran bazaar have been on its board of directors, including such figures as the founder of Golbaft Blankets, Azizollah Alaeddini (d. 2018); Seyyed Abdolmahdi Mousavi Al-To’meh (d. 2015), once considered the richest man in Iran2; brothers Ali Haj Seyyed Soleiman and Hossein Haj Seyyed Soleiman, the founders of Nicala3; Iran’s top tea merchant, Mehdi Hariri (d. 2018)4; Hassan Tehrani, owner of the recently dissolved Tehran Baf Factories5; and Hamid Haji Ebrahim Zargar, founder of Nafis Holding, which is involved in various ventures ranging from mining, IT, and telecom to oil and gas, food industries, and trade consultancy.
According to his profile on Fardanews website, Haji Ebrahim Zargar has also served in governmental posts as director of the Zahedan and Kermanshah radio stations, director general of the Culture and Islamic Guidance Ministry office of Sistan and Baluchistan Province, and director of Islamic Republic of Iran Broadcasting production coordination. He was the official Iran representative of Caterpillar Inc., the world’s largest manufacturer of construction equipment.6
Mohsen Rafiqdoust has been the chairman of Tollou Cultural Institute’s 18-member board of trustees and a member of its board of directors (at one point he simultaneously held both positions). More recently he has been the vice chairman of its board of directors.
Ebrahim Asgarian Damavandi is the current chairman of its board of trustees. Seyyed Abdolhadi Al-Tom’eh7 is the current CEO.
Mohsen Kashani Vahid is an influential figure in conservative private school circles. He is board chairman of Saraj Mo’in Academy, where former Majles speaker Ali Larijani’s son Mohammad Reza also serves on the board. Vahid also sits on the board of directors of Alavi Institute, a prestigious school for boys whose graduates include Foreign Affairs Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif, VP for Economic Affairs Mohammad Nahavandian, and religious intellectual Abdolkarim Soroush. He was also the director of Nikan Schools, another chain of elite academies, which makes no secret of having its own discriminatory gozinesh (ideological screening) practice under which the family of a prospective student is first vetted; a prospect is vetted academically only if his family is found to be “desirable.”
6. Payam-e Hedayat Cultural Institute
This institution operates private schools for boys. Its trustees include Mohsen Rafiqdoust, Mohsen Kashani Vahid (see above), Ebrahim Asgarian Damavandi, Hossein Haj Seyyed Soleiman, and Abbas Saeedinejad. Saeedinejad founded the Camel Shoe factory in Iran prior to the 1979 Revolution. After the Revolution, he founded two other shoe factories (Payam and Zohreh) and he owns several pharmaceutical firms, including Tehran Chemie, Tehran Darou, and Afachemi. Saeedinejad is also connected to Baqiyat Salehat Charity, Association of Charities Supporting the Expansion of Seminaries, Ayin Roshan Cultural Bonyad, and the Islamic Economy Organization (IEO).
7. Ale Yasin Institute
Aside from one record dating back to July 12, 2006, that shows Rafiqdoust was chairman of this institution’s board of directors, there is virtually no information available about Ale Yasin. The institute is based in Mashhad.
Aside from private school, Rafiqdoust also wields influence in Iran’s seminaries.
1. Qom Seminary Mahdieh Housing
Mahdieh Housing is a company that operates and rents out housing units to Qom seminary students, according to its website.
Rafiqdoust is a member of its board of trustees and was formerly its board chairman.
Other notable past and current trustees and board members include businessman Asadollah Asgaroladi (d. 2019)8, Seyyed Ali Ghayouri (d. 2014), former Assembly of Experts (AE) member Hossein Rasti (d. 2017), Morteza Moqtadaei, Abolqassem Vafi, and Alireza Erafi.
Morteza Moatadaei is a current member of the AE, the Society of Seminary Teachers of Qom, and the Association of the Supporters of the Development of Seminaries (Khamenei family). He was formerly a Revolutionary Court judge, head of the Supreme Court of Iran, and Supreme Judicial Council member and spokesman.
Abolqassem Vafi is a current member of the AE and the former custodian of Jamkaran Mosque.
Alireza Erafi, a member of the Guardian Council, was formerly president of Al-Mustafa International University and the Friday prayer leader of Qom and Meybod.
2. Qom Seminary’s Mahdiyeh Fund
Rafiqdoust is a former board member. Many influential politicians and clerics are affiliated with this fund, including:
Ayatollah Morteza Moqtadaei (see above); Habibollah Asgaroladi, who served as commerce minister in the 1980s; Ayatollah Seyyed Mohammad Gharavi, a member of Iran’s Supreme Council of Seminaries; Mahmoud Malekdar, CEO of Qom Seminary’s Mahdieh Housing and a trustee of the Association of the Supporters of the Development of Seminaries; Mohammad Abadi Pisheh Ravari, who previously headed the Qom Seminary Office of Endowments and Sustainable Resources; and Ahmad Farrokhfal, who heads the Assembly of Qom Seminary Teachers.
- A consortium of 11 ISPs, including Asiatech Data Transfer (BTS), Laser Telecommunication (BTS), Afranet (BTS, EIKO), and Fanava (BTS).
- Al- Tom’eh’s father, Seyyed Abbas, held the key to the Abu al-Fadhl Shrine in Karbala. Abdolmahdi was a close friend of Imam Mousa Sadr (related to the Khomeini family) and one of the founders of Jameh Talimat Eslami – a religious educational institution and publishing house with ties to the Khamenei family. Jameh Talimat Eslami has over 60 schools across Iran. Al-Tom’eh was involved in establishing several other religious bonyads, institutions, and charities, with which his sons are still involved.
- Nicala has been producing kerosene cookers, heaters, samovars, gas heaters, and fireplaces for 50 years.
- He was also involved with Baqiyat Salehat charity, and Ayin Roshan Cultural Bonyad and Rah-e Shayestegan Cultural Institute both of which operate private schools.
- Several Al-Tom’eh family members were involved with this company before its dissolution.
- Interestingly, the Fardanews story says Haji Ebrahim Zargar established Samim Machine to bypass sanctions and through this company continues to cooperate with Caterpillar Inc. The report states that “the trade skills concentrated in this company make it possible to procure all sanctioned parts and it has become a reliable resource for contractors.”
- Abdolmahdi Al-Tom’eh’s son.
- According to a Forbes report, Assadollah Asgaroladi exported pistachios, cumin, dried fruit, shrimp, and caviar, and imported sugar and home appliances; his fortune was estimated by Iranian bankers to be some $400 million. Asgaroladi had a little help from his older brother, Habibollah, who, as minister of commerce in the 1980s, was in charge of distributing lucrative foreign-trade licenses. (He was also connected to commodities trader and then-fugitive Marc Rich, who helped Iran bypass US-backed sanctions.)
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