Iran’s religious militia may be about to receive funds via unwitting investors from Britain and other Western nations after taking control of hundreds of companies.
The Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), which has been accused of sending arms to Hezbollah as well as helping prop up Syrian dictator Assad, has placed some of its top commanders at the heart of more than 200 Iranian companies, The Times reports.
Some Western sanctions against Iran are expected to be lifted in March, with leaders arguing the move will have little effect on the IRGC as sanctions against its commanders will remain.
However, some 230 Iranian companies that have never appeared on sanctions lists have IRGC board members or shareholders, according to analysis by the Foundation for Defense of Democracies (FDD), thus making it easy for the group to attain Western funds.
Tom Keatinge, director of the Centre for Financial Crime and Security Studies, said: “It’s inevitable that Revolutionary Guard individuals or organisations will benefit from the opening up of business with the international community, and that UK companies may provide some of that financial benefit.”
Western companies will likely be oblivious that any Iranian partner has a connection to the militia group. Some European companies have already forged deals with Iranian firms controlled by the group, including a French company that is supplying parts to the Telecommunications Company of Iran (YCI), which was purchased by a consortium controlled by the IRCG in 2009.
The FDD said that 14 companies on the Iranian stock exchange have shareholders connected to the IRGC. Their combined value is $17bn. Twelve of them have never been subject to sanctions, while a further 217 non-public companies have IRGC people in senior positions.
As well as TCI, another company with IRGC influence has been named as the Bahman Group, which manufactures vehicles.
Lawyers told The Times that IRGC ownership will be hard to detect, but British companies will be responsible to for checking.