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Supreme Leader’s flight from transparency and accountability breeds corruption at all levels


One of the most important reasons for corruption are defects in the legislative system, that is, a lack or insufficient number of laws covering all the different aspects of corruption and the behaviors and actions that can result in corruption. Indeed, one of the foremost reasons for corruption in Iran specifically is the lack of sufficient and necessary laws to tackle corruption and to guarantee oversight and transparency. But as the transparency report mentions, what has fueled the rampant corruption in Iran today cannot only be explained by an absence of laws or defects in the law, rather the systematic flight of officials or the exemption of a large part of the government apparatus from transparency helps them escape accountability to even the very limited laws dedicated to fighting corruption.

The Iranian government apparatus has two types of institutions: The electoral or pseudo-electoral institutions of the executive branch and the Majles on one hand, and the appointive institutions and unelected positions, which include the Office of the Supreme Leader and institutions under his supervision. The judiciary is another of the three branches of government whose head is determined and appointed by the Supreme Leader.

The first type, despite its numerous weaknesses and shortcomings, in terms of budget and function they are clear and specific in the sense that we know their names and what they do and their level of corruption can be examined. In recent years, the issue of official corruption has not only been pursued and acknowledged to an extent by the government itself, it has also been the subject of articles and investigations by researchers and students. 

As for the Office of the Supreme Leader and the institutions under its supervision, not only does little information exist, in fact these institutions basically exist outside of the normal cycle of monitoring, review, and study. Researchers, journalists, and academics have also looked into these institutions less, which during the early years of the revolution could have been explained by a lack of interest in them, and during more recent years by the danger posed by covering these stories in Iran. The number of these organizations, how they operate, and the extent of their activities is therefore ambiguous and unclear. For example, before the Rouhani government became the first to publish how the budget is allocated every year, many people didn’t even know about the existence of the Al-Mustafa International University, Barekat, and even institutions related to the country’s seminaries and their budgets. Apart from a few references in some reports by foreign press outlets, information on the international and economic activities of organizations such as the Imam Khomeini Relief Foundation, which is the most well-known revolutionary institution in Iran due to its connection to a large part of Iranian society, is unavailable. Therefore, whenever the issue of corruption is raised, it only refers to corruption in government organizations and departments (executive branch) and at most can pertain to the other branches of government, but not the Supreme Leader and the institutions under his supervision.

This seeming indifference to corruption of Supreme Leader-linked institutions is due to two factors: The first is the fact that the Islamic Republic regime has defined the position of the Supreme Leader as sacred and a person with unrealistically holy attributes. Secondly, due to the lack of information about his activities, his incorruptibility is taken for granted and the size and number of institutions under his supervision have also grown in secret. Therefore, in order to understand structural corruption and its spread, it is necessary to examine the institution of the Supreme Leader and those institutions under its supervision in the Islamic Republic.

The office of the Supreme Leader is a broad, vague apparatus about which information is unavailable and whose budget is secret and includes various organizations and departments founded after the 1979 revolution, such as the IRGC, The Imam Khomeini Relief Foundation, the Housing Foundation of the Islamic Republic, the Foundation of Martyrs and Veterans’ Affairs, the Islamic Development Organization, Bonyad Mostazafan, EIKO, and government organizations such as IRIB, the police, and the Armed Forces of the Islamic Republic. The institution of Friday Prayer Imams, represented across all Iranian cities, the institution of holy places and pilgrimage sites, of which Astan Quds Razavi is only one (but also the largest), the administration of endowments, and, in recent years, Azad University, all must also be added to this list.

Some of these organizations have access to capital that was placed at their disposal following the revolution while at the same time enjoying a tax exemption. Two notable examples include Bonyad Mostazafan, which currently owns properties appropriated from former Pahlavi officials, and the Imam Khomeini Relief Foundation, which takes in an annual astronomical sum through charitable donations. The variety of these organizations, the range of their activities, and the chain of secret and shell companies owned by individuals involved in these organizations made solely to swallow up the government budget, in addition to increasing corruption and reducing transparency, have led to the formation of an extensive apparatus that has taken over the public and even the private sector (including quasi-government corporations owned by IRGC figures and government officials) and civil society institutions (such as charities and the media) and is seizing all the country’s resources and spreading corruption to all organizational levels.

This post is also available in: فارسی (Persian)

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