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The late president’s middle son, now serving a 10-year jail sentence, was mired in business scandals for decades.

The late statesman Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani was both a founder and a victim of the kleptocratic system at the heart of the Islamic Republic. A shrewd strategist who was at once a man of the people and a ruthless elitist, his presidency, from 1989 to 1997, gave rise to the clannish power networks and corrupt institutions that continue to paralyze Iran’s economy.

The late statesman Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani was both a founder and a victim of the kleptocratic system at the heart of the Islamic Republic. A shrewd strategist who was at once a man of the people and a ruthless elitist, his presidency, from 1989 to 1997, gave rise to the clannish power networks and corrupt institutions that continue to paralyze Iran’s economy.

The lack of comprehensive public business records from the Rafsanjani era make tracing his family’s role in Iran’s economy difficult, but Rafsanjani was a dedicated diary keeper and one of the few IRI officials to publish annual memoirs until his suspicious death in 2017. 

These memoirs, augmented by our research into current business records and whistleblower interviews, offer a wealth of information about the Rafsanjani clan’s relationships with Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei and other top decision makers, family scandals, and pivotal events that took place behind closed doors and were never shared with the nation. 

In this series, Tehran Bureau provides an in-depth look at the Rafsanjani family’s business interests. Part one examined the network of Mohsen Hashemi, Rafsanjani’s oldest son. Part two turned to the youngest of Rafsanjani’s three sons, Yaser Hashemi, along with his wife, Maryam Salari, and her family connections. Part three focused on the late president’s two daughters, Faezeh and Fatemeh, and the Lahouti clan they both married into. Now, in this fourth part we look at Rafsanjani’s middle son, Mehdi Hashemi.

Mehdi Hashemi

Mehdi, 51, is the second of Rafsanjani’s three sons and the fourth of his five children. He is married to his cousin Fereshteh Hashemi1 with whom he has two sons, Foad and Yasin. Foad has been in the UK since 2013 studying at City, University of London, where he attained both his bachelor’s and master of science degrees. He recently obtained a PhD in renewable energy management and systems technology. No information is publicly available on Yasin.

Mehdi has a master’s-equivalent diploma from the Sharif University of Technology in energy systems engineering. He obtained this diploma via the educational partnership program between the university and the Iranian Fuel Conservation Company (IFCC).2 At the time, Mehdi was the IFFC’s CEO and vice chairman and evidently gave himself an IFCC scholarship. He then used this diploma to obtain a PhD in energy engineering from Azad University—to which his family had multiple business connections. In 2010, he began pursuing an Oxford doctorate in constitutional law. (He is also reported to have a degree in telecommunications, but this has not been verified.)

Mehdi managed his father’s 2005 reelection campaign; the two-time president failed to secure a third term and Mahmoud Ahmadinejad won the presidency. One year later, Mehdi managed his father’s successful campaign for a seat in the Assembly of Experts

In 2009, following the contested presidential election, Rafsanjani appointed Mehdi as his representative in the joint election integrity committee.

Mehdi was also the chief of staff of Azad University’s board of trustees; after he left the country in 2010 the position was given to his brother Yaser. 

Aside from having served as vice chairman of the Daftar Nashr Maaref Enqelab publishing house, devoted to his father’s legacy (see our article on Mohsen Hashemi), Mehdi was involved at the top levels of two oil and gas firms: 

  • Iranian Offshore Engineering and Construction Company (IOEC) – from March 17, 1993, until 2000
  • Iranian Fuel Conservation Company – from 2000 until 2006

Mehdi’s Many Scandals 

Mehdi Hashemi was rarely far from scandal for more than two decades. In 2003, Norwegian Statoil was investigated for paying him 15 million dollars in “consulting fees” via an offshore company ​​to win contracts to develop the offshore platforms in South Pars Phases 6, 7, and 8. Statoil executives told Norwegian investigators that the fees paid to Mr. Rafsanjani were based on a contract that he said had been used with other multinational oil companies, suggesting that Statoil was not alone. In 2007, Parisian prosecutors launched an investigation into oil giant Total over an alleged bribe of 95 million Swiss francs ($78.6 million) bribe paid to Mehdi to win a gas project in South Pars.  

In 2015, Tasnim released a 20-year-old confessional audio recording of Abbas Yazdanpanah Yazdi, a close friend and confidant of Mehdi’s, detailing various projects and deals that were made with international companies but only after a fee was paid to Mehdi. Yazdanpanah Yazdi had been arrested on charges of espionage in 1995, during which time his confessions were recorded. He was granted furlough that same year and left the country. Yazdanpanah Yazdi then took British citizenship and continued his work with Mehdi Hashemi, according to Mashreghnews. Yazdanpanah Yazdi had allegedly testified in an arbitration case filed by Crescent Petroleum against NIOC—another oil deal that Mehdi was said to have been involved with. Yazdanpanah Yazdi disappeared in Dubai in 2013 and is presumed dead. There has been widespread speculation that Mehdi Hashemi was behind his disappearance, and many, including Yazdanpanah’s wife, believe the Iranian government was involved in her husband’s disappearance and death. 

In another case, Iranian-born, European-educated businessman Houshang Bouzari brought a suit against the Islamic Republic and Mehdi Hashemi for “kidnapping, false imprisonment, assault, torture, and death threats” in 2000. In an interview with The Atlantic in 2012, Bouzari claimed that Mehdi had demanded a $50 million bribe from him or else his South Pars contract would be scrapped. Before Bouzari could make a decision, Mehdi informed him that he was creating a company called Iranian Offshore Engineering and Construction Company (IOEC) that would take over all South Pars oil projects. Public records from the early 1990s when IOEC was established are not available; however, in 2015 Rafsanjani met with IOEC executives and confirmed that it had been his son’s initiative that led to the company’s creation. Several entries from 1996 in Rafsanjani’s memoirs also indicate that Mehdi was the CEO of IOEC.

Bouzari traveled to Tehran to dissuade then president Rafsanjani and Mehdi, but his plan backfired and landed him in Evin Prison. According to Bouzari, his interrogators demanded $5 million to let him go. His wife paid $3 million of the ransom and he was released after a few months having promised to pay the remainder. Having fled to Canada with his family in 1998, Bouzari brought suit against the Islamic Republic in the Superior Court of Justice in Ontario. The  lawsuit was ultimately dismissed on May 1, 2002, with the court ruling that it lacked jurisdiction.

Mehdi was arrested in 2012 and sentenced to ten years in prison for embezzlement, accepting bribes, and national security crimes in June 2015.

Mehdi’s Cousins and In-Laws

Mehdi’s wife Fereshteh has at least three brothers, Ali, Naser and Mohammad, all referenced in Rafsanjani’s memoirs. Mohammad is a doctor who during Rafsanjani’s presidency went to Germany for a fellowship. He is married to Maryam Zaheri, who is related to the Fayazbaksh family. 

Naser, a pistachio farmer, is married to Mansoureh Mahdavi Shahroudi, the daughter of Mohammad Sharif Mahdavi Shahroudi. 

Mohammad Sharif Mahdavi Shahroudi was one of Rafsanjani’s close associates and a former Iranian envoy to South Africa who, according to Rafsanjani,  played matchmaker in Nelson Mandela’s marriage to Graça Machel (the widow of former president of Mozambique Samora Machel). 

Naser Hashemi and his wife’s family own a publishing house called Chav Gostar Packaging and Printing. Hassan Hashemi Bahramani (possibly another one of Fereshteh’s brothers) formerly served as its CEO, and Hassan Moadikhah was board chairman. Moadikhah is the son of Abdolmajid Moadikhah, a former Revolution Court Prosecutor,  MP and close Rafsanjani associate. 

Mansoureh Mahdavi was the vice chairman of this company, where positions were also held by her brothers Alireza (inspector) and Mehdi (alternate inspector). Alireza Mahdavi is a cultural advisor to the Tehran provincial governor, for whose office he previously served as public relations and international affairs director.

Mehdi Mahdavi is connected to several companies ranging from recycling firms to ones that create libraries and data centers for government organizations and others involved in import-export. 

Both Mahdavi brothers are connected to Rah Jooyan Imam Hadi Institute, which is linked to Mostafa Mirlohi, a relative of Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei’s.

Another influential individual affiliated with this company is Alireza Mousavi Bojnourdi (related to the Khomeini family3). Alireza and his family members own the Talaei Pars Tobacco Co. as well as oil and gas companies such as Persis Sun (oil swap, import-export, domestic and international investment, offshore oil services and construction) and the newly established Petro Esteel Asia, which deals in imports of “oil, gas and petrochemical industry equipment, imports of iron ore and other metallic bars.” 

The family’s other holdings include the Persis Daad (fka Nik Rouz Daad) law firm, Ma’araf Rayzan Artistic and Cultural Institute (book publication and compilation, visual arts and graphics, theater set design, database creation, visual effects, and costume design—as well as providing journalists with fixers), and a Quran Bonyad.

  1. She is the daughter of Qasem Hashemi Bahramani, Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani’s oldest brother, who died before the 1979 Revolution.
  2. This company is a subsidiary of the National Iranian Oil Company.
  3. Hassan Khomeini is married to Fatemeh Mousavi Bojnourdi, who goes by the name Neda.

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