On June 24, the U.S. Treasury imposed new sanctions on Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. The move comes as a rare acknowledgment of the power that Iran’s Supreme Leader wields over his country’s economy.

As a new Doublethink white paper shows, Khamenei’s office is the sole overseer of a kleptocratic network of conglomerates owned by Iran’s parastatal foundations known as bonyads.

“Among Iran’s ruling elite, piecemeal information about corruption networks is leverage against one’s political and business rivals. Under this system, the Office of the Supreme Leader is a central point of power because all state institutions, including the bonyads, are formally accountable to it, even if the office’s information about them is imprecise,” the report states.  

An ongoing Doublethink investigation scheduled for publication later this summer will show the inner workings of Khamenei’s economic powerhouse. The Supreme Leader and his family own and operate an extensive network of businesses in strategic industries that are co-owned by major bonyads including oil & gas, construction, publishing, export/import, healthcare, media and technology.

The Iranian public has been led to believe that the Supreme Leader and his family refrain from business and economic activities. Indeed, Ayatollah Khamenei explicitly forbids his sons from engaging in economic and political activities, an edict often repeated by hardline politicians in an attempt to reinforce the Supreme Leader’s clerical and scholarly image.

Here are some highlights from our published report :

  • Aside from Ayatollah Khamenei himself, one specific individual is noteworthy in this context: The Supreme Leader’s Special Inspector Hossein Fadaei, who served in the IRGC and is a former principal MP. EIKO, Bonyad Barakat, Mostazafan Foundation, Astan Qods Razavi and Komiteh Emdad are among the entities he audits and supervises.
  • Organizations including Mostazafan Foundation and Setad have suggested to Ayatollah Khamenei that they take over the governing of the country as the government is ineffective, according to state-controlled media. Khamenei has rejected the idea.
  • Bonyads regularly challenge the existing power structure, but Ayatollah Khamenei has a vested interest in keeping bonyads unaccountable.
  • Occasionally, vocal policymakers scrutinize the bonyads’ lack of accountability or tax-exempt status. However, the bonyads override any legal challenges to their autonomy because the judiciary is closely aligned with the Supreme Leader.
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