By Pooya Stone
According to a 2017 World Bank development report, “systematic corruption” means the private use of public resources. In 2019, the organization Transparency International ranked Iran 130 among the world’s 180 countries for such corruption.
How Did the Story of Corruption Begin in the Ayatollahs’ Rule?
In 1979, vast corruption in the structure of the monarchic regime in Iran was one of the reasons that prompted the public to revolt against the Shah’s rule. However, corruption and abuse of power became institutionalized in the new revolutionary government since the first days.
From 1997 to 2005, during his presidency, Mohammad Khatami was forced to establish a staff council called the “Health Headquarters of the Administrative System and Combating Corruption.” However, according to the power of influential parts of the system, the headquarters remained barren, no report or statement was published by it, and the matter was eventually forgotten.
The Most Unprecedented Levels of Corruption in the Iranian Economy
With the inauguration of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s presidency, as the most loyal official to the supreme leader Ali Khamenei, the scale of corruption became too widespread. In this respect, Transparency International declared that since 2005, the most unprecedented levels of corruption took place in Iran in tandem with adopting a complex of misguided policies in Iran’s economic agenda.
Following the organization’s report about the depth of corruption, the Khabar Online news agency in Iran published a research provided by the State Academy of Sciences.
“The statistics of administrative corruption in Iran show that the estimates of the Transparency International have been very easy and optimistic. In other words, economic corruption in Iran is much more than what the organization announced. In 2013, Iran ranked 144th out of 177 countries in the world with a score of 25,” Khabar Online wrote on June 3, 2014.
New Round of Infighting Over Economic Corruption
With the increasing introduction of the issue of government corruption in Iran, literature and its concepts and words have also entered the minds and languages of society, including mafia gangs, government embezzlers, rent-seeking officials’ children that means “Aghazadeh” in Persian.
“We have reached the stage of systematic corruption,” an ex-member of the Parliament (Majlis) Ahmad Tavakkoli told the Fars news agency on March 11, 2014.
Tavakkoli explained that “systematic corruption” is considered as a stage whereby counter-corruption institutions are themselves contaminated with corruption. He also tried to downplay the problem, saying, “Iran is in the early stages of systematic corruption, which means that regulatory bodies are slowly becoming involved in corruption.”
“When corruption becomes systematic, corrupt agents take power and do not allow the system to change. In this case, they are not only the outcome of corruption, but also, they are the cause,” Fars quoted Tavakkoli as saying at the time.
Show Me the Corruption: Iran’s Former Judiciary Chief
With the entry of the systematic corruption in the factional feuding among authorities, the infighting took on new dimensions, and confirmations and denials increased.
In this respect, the then-Chief of the Judiciary Sadegh Amoli Larijani, who was under accusations of cooperation with government corrupt figures, defended himself, saying, “Several media outlets criticize the judiciary for the slightest thing, which is due to ignorance of the law and some political tendencies.”
“As the head of the judiciary, I do not think that the corruption is systematic. Personally, I do not feel systematic corruption,” Dideban website quoted Larijani as saying on June 26, 2016.
He later blamed his rival critics accusing them of “injection the desperation to the country.”
“Several are ready to extend corruptions. I believe that we should inspire people. What is the profit of injecting despair into the country? Anyone who says corruption is systematic should show that we pursue it. Of course, there is corruption in banks and insurance companies, and we will pursue. But let's not exaggerate corruption too much,” Larijani told the Dideban website.
However, his executive deputy and director-general of finance Akbar Tabari were immediately arrested after Larijani’s dismissal. Notably, Tabari’s charge was economic corruption while had held the position for 20 years.
We Have Corrupt Cases, Not Systematic Corruption: Khamenei
In June 2017, Khamenei made public remarks about corruption while mind-blowing cases of theft and embezzlement have been exposed. In this respect, the supreme leader tried to naturalize public ire that was prompted against the regime even among its supporters, let alone ordinary people.
“There was systemic corruption during the [Shah’s] period, and the system was naturally corrupt. Today, there are corrupt cases. They are bad things and should be pursued. However, there are some cases, but they are not systematic,” Khamenei’s website published his remarks on June 7, 2016.
Friday Prayers, Systematic Corruption, and U.S. Conspiracy
Eventually, the topic was raised even in Friday prayers, and Friday leaders, who are totally appointed by Khamenei stuff, accused the U.S. of systematic corruption in Iran. They reckoned that the U.S. administration would make Iranian citizens pessimistic about their “honest” government.
On October 12, 2018, the interim Friday prayer of Tehran Mohammad Emami-Kashani said that Americans would accuse the administration and other government branches of corruption. “Criticism is good but insulting the country’s officials is aiding foreigners and the revolution’s foes,” Kashani added.
Then, he narrated a story without providing any evidence. In his myth, Kashani claimed, “The U.S. administration has urged the Congress Research Center to provide a plan for dominating Iran and disrupting our society by accusing the administration, other branches of power, and the entire Islamic system to corruption.”
He also put an end seal on any discussion over corrupt cases in the country, saying, “We have helped the enemy if we pursued to raise corruption in the administration and other branches of power… They would persuade us that the ruling system is corrupt… They would accuse all officials of corruption.”
Kashani revealed his concerns about people’s protests against high officials, particularly Khamenei. “On the other hand, they would create quarrel among the country’s authorities to weaken the country. They pursue to disappoint the people from the leadership and top managers of the Islamic Republic. In this condition, they have managed to achieve their goals,” he said.
Black Economy; Transition to A Social Norm
Given the vast and deep scope of corruption in Iran, even the government-linked experts are engaged in technical, academic researches to identify its indicators and components. In this respect, an economic expert Dr. Ali Arab-Mazar described corruption as a historic phenomenon in Iran. In his book “Black Economy,” Arab-Mazar explained that this disaster has passed the stage of an anomaly and became a norm in the society, according to the sociologic terms.
“Corruption virus is strangling Iran’s economy. It is also worsening day after day. Several events have become normal for us and we easily cast them aside. No one questions why many massive economic cases are still open? Why did corrupt wealth not return to the people with closing several cases? Corruption in Iran is passing from the stage of a social anomaly to an accepted norm. However, would our problems resolve with several laws?” Shafaqna website wrote on August 15, 2018.
The Central Bank of Iran (CBI) Admits to An Unknown Fate of $1.6 Billion
The latest example of systematic corruption in Iran, which was revealed in state media, is about missing $4.8 billion according to the 2019 budget settlement. On April 14, Head of Supreme Audit Court Adel Azar read the Settlement Budget Law in the Iranian Parliament session.
The report revealed classified details, not meant for the public, raising a new round of political infighting among Iranian officials. For instance, it revealed that more than $4.8 billion was lost by December 3.
The issue raised a new phase of infighting among officials. However, the CBI chief Abdul-Nasser Hemmati eventually admitted to missing $1.6 billion.
“15.3 percent of approximately $31 billion foreign exchange, which was allocated to imports, has not been settled. Therefore, government facilities, not the people and the weak or middle classes, were the main destination of a $4.8 billion currency in 2019. A wide range of essential commodity-related currencies was dedicated to importing non-essential goods such as dental flosses, dolls, toys, mattresses, kitchen utensils, bodybuilding supplies, lamps, cans, lids, dog and cat food, ice cream sticks, soil types, cleaners, and the fabric,” Jahan-e Sanat daily wrote on May 6, 2020.
In response, President Hassan Rouhani rejected the chief auditor’s report, describing, “It is 100 percent wrong.” He truly curbed further investigation over embezzlements and corrupt cases of his allies.
Notably, the corrupt case of his brother, Hossein Fereydoun [Rouhani], is still open and the persecution continues. However, like many other crimes that are committed by the ayatollahs in the past 41 years, economic crimes should be pursued in fair and impartial courts.
The ayatollahs’ corrupt Judiciary system is absolutely inappropriate to investigate these cases as it is inappropriate to draw murderers of 1,500 killed protesters in the November protests, culprits of downing the Ukrainian airliner, killing 16 million chicks while many citizens are starving, aiding Bashar al-Assad in the bloody crackdown on Syrian people, funding extremist groups, and the massacre of 30,000 political prisoners in 1988.