Ayatollah Khamenei’s conglomerate thrived as sanctions squeezed Iran

By Reuters Staff
November 13, 2013

(Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei sits next to a portrait of late leader Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini in a television programme in Tehran on the occasion of the Iranian New Year March 21, 2011. REUTERS/Leader.ir/Handout)

(This is the second story in a three-part series, Assets of the Ayatollah. The first article was Iran’s Ayatollah Khamenei controls vast financial empire built on property seizures)

Seven years ago, the United Nations and Western powers began subjecting Tehran to steadily harsher economic sanctions. Around the same time, an organisation controlled by Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei started to study how some developing economies managed to grow fast.

Setad, as the organisation is known, had amassed billions of dollars in property seized from Iranian citizens. What Iran lacked and needed, Setad decided, was conglomerates on a par with those of South Korea, Japan, Brazil and the United States.

According to an account this year by a senior official in the unit that oversees Setad’s financial investments, Ali Ashraf Afkhami, the organisation also picked the perfect candidate to create an Iranian national champion: Setad itself.

The ayatollah’s organisation would go on to acquire stakes in a major bank by 2007 and in Iran’s largest telecommunications company in 2009. Among dozens of other investments, it took over a giant holding company in 2010.

An organizational chart labeled “SETAD at a Glance,” prepared in 2010 by one of Setad’s companies and seen by Reuters, illustrates how big it had grown. The document shows holdings in major banks, a brokerage, an insurance company, power plants, energy and construction firms, a refinery, a cement company and soft drinks manufacturing.

Today, Setad’s vast operations provide an independent source of revenue and patronage for Supreme Leader Khamenei, even as the West squeezes the Iranian economy harder with sanctions in an attempt to end the nuclear-development program he controls.

“He has a huge sum at his disposal that he can spend,” says Mohsen Sazegara, a co-founder of the powerful Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps military force, who is now living in exile in the United States. “When you have this much money, that’s power itself.”

Read the full story by Babak Dehghanpisheh and Steve Stecklow here.

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