Iran’s most visited news website, Tabnak, prides itself on “analyzing and interpreting political, social, economical and cultural issues in a neutral manner.” But an investigation into the organization’s corporate structure shows how the state-funded outlet exists primarily to advance the private interests of Mohsen Rezaei, Tabnak’s owner, whose served as the top commander of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps from 1981 to 1997.
Public records also show at least six friends and relatives of Rezaei hold executive positions at Tabnak Institute, the website’s publisher. Additionally, most of these six affiliates hold prominent political positions in the Majles, Iran’s parliament, or the Expediency Council.
Tabnak Executives’ Relations to Mohsen Rezaei
One former Tabnak board member, Seyyed Mohammad Mehdi Ahmadi, is connected by marriage to both Rezaei and former Tehran Mayor Mohammad Bagher Qalibaf. Our reporting has shown that Ahmadi has used his connection to both the Qalibaf and Rezaei families to secure various positions in Shahr Bank, a $500 million financial institution owned by the Tehran municipality.
When Qalibaf stepped down as mayor in 2017, Ahmadi was removed from the board of Bank-e Shahr but quickly regained his position through intense lobbying, according to tweets by Iranian journalists. At the time, Tabnak ran a story accusing the new team at the Tehran municipality of corruption and “mafia tactics” for trying to replace Ahmadi.
Despite its popularity, Tabnak lacks the journalistic prestige of other prominent state-run websites such as Fars or Tasnim.
“Tabnak…enjoys the most site visits, but doesn’t mean that it has influence in the political environment or even journalism. Their yellow style of journalism is part of the reason they have the most visitors,” a prominent Iranian business reporter told Doublethink on condition of anonymity, referencing Tabnak’s gossipy clickbait content.
Despite these shortcomings, the organization is well-financed through public funds administered by the Culture Ministry. “Politicians don’t like to use their own money when they have access to government funds,” the reporter said. “They pay their staff, because nobody would work for them otherwise. They don’t have first-class journalists, partly because those journalists like to be in a freer, more professional environment. And certainly the most important and top-ranked jobs are for the closest friends and relatives.”
The Complete Network of Mohsen Rezaei
The Who’s Who of Tabnak News
- Mohsen Rezaei’s only surviving son, Ali, is the Board Chairman of Tabnak Institute.
- Rouhollah Raisi Nafchi, Mohsen Rezaei’s oldest son-in-law, is a state prosecutor and inspector. He was vice chairman of Tabnak Institute from 2013.
- Seyyed Mohammad Mehdi Ahmadi, who is related to both the Qalibaf family and Mohsen Rezaei, has served on the boards of Shahr Bank and its subsidiaries, as well as Tabnak News website. He has held the position of executive deputy of the Expediency Council.
- Rezaei’s daughter Mahdiyeh Rezaei Mirqaed is a partner in Tabnak Institute and sits on the board of Baqiyatallah International Bonyad with her brother.
- Seyyed Morteza Alavi has held positions such as Media Advisor, Comms Director General and PR Expert at the Expediency Council. He left this position to become advisor to the CEO and PR and marketing supervisor at Ma Insurance Co., which is owned by Bank Mellat, in 2016. Alavi is also the CEO of Tabnak institute, and Board Chairman of Mondir Iron and Steel Industries, which are co-owned by Baqiyatallah International Bonyad. There are no public records of Mondir Iron and Steel Industries until 2016, when it signed a 1 billion Euro contract with TENOVA, an Italian Company.
- Seyyed Mahmoud Alavi, the father of Sayyed Morteza, is the Intelligence Minister of both Rouhani Administrations and has been a member of parliament in the 1st, 2nd, 4th and 5th Majles. He is currently a member of the Assembly of Experts, which appoints the Supreme Leader. He is also Head of the Supreme Council of the Resistance Front of Islamic Iran, Mohsen Rezaei’s political party.
- Karam Reza Piryayi is listed as a partner in Tabnak Institute. Like most in Rezaei’s close circle of friends, Piryayi held several positions in the Expediency Council. He was appointed as Secretary of Notifications Council and advisor to the Secretary of the Expediency Council in 2014. He also became head of the Expediency Council’s advisers and headed the Luristan Province Elites desk at the Expediency Council in 2016. Piryayi also served as the governor of Hamadan and Qom provinces. He was head of the Islamic Republic of Iran Broadcasting (IRIB) in Ilam and Kurdistan Provinces. He has served as the board member, treasurer and inspector of the Islamic Republic’s Governors’ Council. He had a failed Majles bid in 2020.
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