This article is a part of a series of posts about the Iranian supreme leader “Ali Khamenei’s Economic Empire” that explores the real scope of national resources seized by Khamenei-affiliated companies when Iran is in severe need to counter natural and manmade crises like the novel coronavirus.
The Mostazafan Foundation of Islamic Revolution, Bonyad-e Mostazafan Va Janbazan (MFJ), or simply Bonyad [Foundation in Persian], is the second-largest commercial enterprise in Iran behind the state-owned National Iranian Oil Company and is the biggest holding company in the Middle East. Khamenei’s office directly runs it.
In September 2019, Eghtesad Online website revealed that “the Mostazafan Foundation alongside three other economic cartels, including Astan-e Quds Razavi, Khatam al-Anbiya Construction Headquarters, and The Execution of Imam Khomeini’s Order (EIKO) possesses 60 percent of Iran’s total wealth.”
Bonyad-e Mostazafan Background
In 1958, Iran’s toppled Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi established the Pahlavi Foundation or Bonyad-e Pahlavi as a tax-exempt charity. Contrary to its designated task, the Foundation had been obligated to hold the assets of the Shah and his relatives, which were estimated to be $3 billion at its height. However, it was accused of corruption.
Following the monarchic regime’s overthrow in 1979, the first supreme leader Ruhollah Khomeini ordered the renaming of the Pahlavi Foundation to the Mostazafan Foundation on February 24, 1979. Several months later, on July 25, 1979, it was registered as a nonprofit institution under no. 1983.
According to Khomeini’s order, the Foundation was tasked with confiscating the Pahlavi dynasty’s movable and immovable assets to benefit needy people and low-income employees and workers. It accumulated the assets and stepped further and confiscated the dissidents’ properties and belongings. However, it did not spend them on the benefit of the poor. Instead, it molded a giant economic holding.
As an economic, cultural, and social welfare institution, the Foundation controls manufacturing and industrial companies. According to the Foundation’s statue, it is supposed to use its profits to promote the living standards of the disabled and impoverished individuals and develop general public awareness.
Heads of the Mostazafan Foundation
The Supreme Leader is the real owner of the Foundation. Nonetheless, he appoints an individual to control this conglomerate for five years. Since 1979, the Foundation’s heads were as follows:
Ali-Naghi Khamoushi (March 1979-September 1980)
Mohammad-Ali Rajaei (September 1980-September 1981)
Mir-Hossein Mousavi (December 1981-September 1989)
Mohsen Rafighdoost (September 1989-July 1999)
Mohammad Foruzandeh (July 1999-July 2014)
Mohammad Saeedi-Kia (July 2014-July 2019)
Parviz Fattah (July 2019-Now)
According to IRNA news agency, “EIKO, Khatam al-Anbiya Headquarters, Astan-e Quds, and Mostazafan Foundation control 60 percent of Iran’s national wealth. However, none of them has any communication with the administration and the Islamic Consultative Assembly (Iranian Parliament or Majlis).”
In 1989, the Bonyad had over 800 companies and financial firms; all of them were confiscated. At the time, the Foundation’s assets totaled over $20 billion. According to the statistics, in 1994, the wealth of Bonyad’s transactions was 6 trillion rials [$2.222 billion] while the government tax revenue was 5.5 trillion rials [$2.037 billion].
In 1999, following the government’s privatization path, the number of Mostazafan’s firms reached 400. However, the Foundation did not allocate all the firms, and some of them were shut down due to mismanagement.
By 2009, Bonyad had less than 140 companies. Sina Bank, ZamZam soft drink company, Bonyad-e Alavi, Behran oil company, Tehran Highway company, Quds chain of stores, Keyhan and Ettela’at newspapers, are among Mostazafan ’s subsidiaries.
According to the latest estimation, the Foundation possesses 189 companies at the present time.
Mostazafan Foundation Brokers for the IRGC
The Bonyad has strong ties with the IRGC, from which some of its top officials stem. For instance, Mohsen Rafighdoost was the Minister of the Revolutionary Guards for seven years. Rafighdoost’s successor, Mohammad Foruzandeh, was the IRGC chief of staff for two years. The current Bonyad head Parviz Fattah was the IRGC Cooperative Foundation for six years.
Furthermore, on April 5, Fattah revealed that the former commander of the IRGC Quds Force Qassem Soleimani urged him to pay IRGC-backed Afghan militants in Syria. “When I was [the head] of the IRGC Cooperative Foundation, Haj Qassem told me: ‘I cannot pay the Fatemyiuns’ salaries. Help us in Syria… These are our Afghan brothers.’ He appealed to some people like me,” said Fattah in a televised interview.
As Iranians search garbage for some food, they receive $500-1200 per month. pic.twitter.com/1qxBmPIevS
— IranNewsUpdate (@IranNewsUpdate1) August 15, 2020
In 1988, German and British governments listed the Bonyad as a risky end-user, having produced goods and/or technology for weapons of mass destruction programs. It also reportedly purchased chemicals, equipment for nuclear programs, and spare for Iranian fighter-bomber. Notably, the IRGC commanders unilaterally oversee all military and nuclear projects in Iran.
Mostazafan Loots Underprivileged People
In contrast to its name, Mostazafan confiscates underprivileged people’s property to benefit influential figures. On August 9, Fattah exposed parts of systematic corruption in the Islamic Republic’s regime, urging two former Presidents, an advisor to the supreme leader, the President’s deputies, and military forces to hand over the Bonyad’s properties.
However, he immediately met harsh reactions and retracted his revelation, and apologized to the mentioned individuals and entities. “Individuals and entities, which I named, had no personal use. It was my fault that I briefly listed and named them. There was no opportunity for more explanation. Maybe my data was imperfect, or I had not observed fairness. I would like to apologize to these dignitaries, particularly my dear brother Haddad-Adel publicly,” Fattah said in a field interview on August 19.
On August 9, head of #Mostazafan [deprived] Foundation #ParvizFattah criticized individuals & entities, including former presidents, Khamenei's advisor, & #IRGC, for illegal seizure of public property.
However, this "anti-corruption" figure retracted his remarks 10 days later. pic.twitter.com/C7962oWWBi
— IranNewsUpdate (@IranNewsUpdate1) August 19, 2020
However, the Foundation retaliated against poor people in Khuzestan province. On August 20, the Bonyad collaborated with the local judiciary and dispatched the State Security Forces (SSF) to Hazrat-e Abolfazl Village, suburb of Ahvaz. According to baseless claims, SSF members raided locals’ sheds to destroy them.
In response, underprivileged people resisted oppressive forces and pushed them back. The people’s resistance prompted officials to criticize Bonyad’s plundering policies. “If their claim is true, why didn’t they bring it up before? Why did they wait for 300 families, who have lived here for over 30 years, to build their homes, then remember their claim?” said Seyed Yusef Mousavi, the village’s Friday Prayers Imam, to the state-run Mehr News Agency on the same day.
#IranProtests#Iran, #Khuzestan—"The monarchic regime did not give us documents saying, 'Arabs can only farm & eat'… Mostazafan Foundation exactly did what the Shah's intelligence service (SAVAK) had done against our ancestors," say locals of Abolfazl village, #Ahvaz. pic.twitter.com/SzQrm1tihs
— IranNewsUpdate (@IranNewsUpdate1) August 30, 2020
Ahmad Tavakoli, member of the Expediency Council, also admitted that the Mostazafan Foundation is a corrupt institution. “[The assets of] the biggest holding company in the Middle East benefit officials and government institutions rather than, as originally intended, the poor,” he said on August 16.
The next piece will focus on Astan-e Quds Razavi, another pillar of Khamenei’s empire of wealth.