For eight years, President Barack Obama has been reluctant to expose skeletons in the closet of the Iranian mullahs. Even his own party members are now fed up with this policy, as a number of them joined Republicans to pass legislation dragging out one of these skeletons.
On September 21, 42 Democrats joined House Republicans, voting 282-143, to pass a bill putting the spotlight on a cleric epidemic in Iran—corruption—by requiring Treasury Department to disclose the assets of Tehran’s top political and military leaders.
But Obama threatens a veto. Why? He fears this truth revelation may endanger his landmark nuclear agreement with Tehran—the one-sided deal in Iran’s favor he assured us would improve relations with the U.S. The doubling of naval confrontations with Tehran since then, along with the mullahs’ recent threats to shoot down our spy planes in international airspace, suggests a contrary result was achieved.
Should Obama veto the bill, the House would lack the mandatory two-thirds vote to override it, allowing the issue of the mullahs’ corruption to fade back into the shadows.
Despite such rampant corruption, Obama still encourages companies, as permitted under the nuclear deal, to invest there. Already having given away pallets of taxpayers’ cash to Tehran sans congressional knowledge, Obama apparently now wants these companies to put their investment funds at risk without them realizing much of it may end up lining the mullahs’ pockets (as may well have been the case with Obama’s monetary transfers to Iran).
Numerous verses in the Quran forbid corruption, such as Quran 28:77: “And desire not corruption in the land. Indeed, Allah does not like corrupters.”
While Islamic scholars pontificate that sharia cleanses government corruption, reality does not bear it out. This is particularly true in the world’s first Islamic state. The 2015 Corruption Perceptions Index ranked Iran 130 out of 167 countries listed.
Reza Kahili—a pseudonym for a former undercover CIA agent who served in the Iranian Revolutionary Guard—bore witness to the Shah of Iran’s 1979 fall from power and subsequent rise of the mullahs from poverty to riches.
Interviewed by author Jerry Gordon in 2012, Gordon wrote Kahili explained “how Iran went from being a largely secular country under the late Shah to become an Islamic theocracy that returned the country to medieval tyranny under Shiite Mahdism… A tyranny that saw donkey riding Islamic clerics living off meager contributions and handouts rise to become dictators suppressing Iranians, controlling the nation’s economy…”
With the mullahs controlling the economy and more than a year now passing since the nuclear agreement resulted in a partial lifting of sanctions, there should be visible signs of economic growth in Iran. There are none. This is because the government has failed to build a solid basis for economic development. As one critic put it, there is “something rotten” in the state of Iran.
A 2014 interview with New York Times correspondent Elaine Sciolino may offer insights into exactly what is rotten there. She had accompanied Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini on his return to Iran in 1979 and later wrote a most revealing book about the country’s economic inner-workings.
In the interview, Sciolino reported, “Corruption is endemic to Iran… I think it is a factor that an awful lot of the clerics have an economic stake in keeping the Islamic system the way it is—not only in terms of a strong Islamic republic, but in terms of strong control of the economy by quasi-governmental foundations in which they, the clerics, have an awful lot of control. If you open things up, if you allow foreign investment, if you make it interesting for Europeans, Americans, Japanese to come in and invest their money, it’s going to degrade this system, which does give preferential treatment to a few.”
Sciolino explained these foundations, while supposedly accountable, in reality are not, as books are kept secret. She adds, “There were hundreds, probably thousands of privileged people who benefit from this system…”
In her book, Sciolino details much of the corruption. She notes that Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei controls foundations operating hundreds of companies, accounting for about 40% of the country’s economy.
The foundations were established soon after the Islamic Revolution toppled the shah, confiscating, “billions of dollars in assets of the former royal family, banks, and ordinary homeowners.” Khamenei has since doled out wealth to other religious and non-religious leaders supporting him. Their wealth grows as the foundations are exempted from paying taxes.
Sciolino continues, “Two decades after the revolution, the foundations are among the biggest economic complexes in the Middle East… Most of them are the individual fiefs of powerful clerics, and their size crowds out smaller private competitors who might be more efficient, even as their corruption fuels resentment.”
Iranian filmmaker and spokesman (abroad) for the opposition, Mohsen Makhmalbaf, has, unlike Obama, endeavored to focus the spotlight on the lavish lifestyle of the country’s Supreme Leader.
Makhmalbaf details Khamenei’s enormous wealth, estimated at $30 billion (exclusive of an additional $6 billion for his family members) in cash, stocks, various real estate holdings (including a horse farm), foreign bank accounts, diamonds, etc.—all this while also living in many of the late shah’s villas.
And, Makhmalbaf claims, although not as great as Khamenei’s wealth, many others similarly have joined the ranks of the “rich and famous” mullahs accumulating hundreds of millions of dollars in state assets.
Not bad for clerics who earlier rode into town on donkeys!
As most Iranians struggle for daily existence, the mullahs continue adding to their personal wealth. Ironically, what supposedly is one of Islam’s greatest strengths—cleaning up corruption—is used by Iranian clerics to join the ranks of the world’s wealthiest people. They are accumulating, dare it be said, more money than Allah!
The word “mullah” means an educated Muslim trained in Islamic laws and doctrine. As such, mullahs are to act as shepherds for Muslim flocks in need of spiritual guidance on how to live Quran-compliant lives. Unfortunately, in Iran, materiality trumps spirituality for mullahs embarked upon an unending quest for “moolah.”
Lt. Colonel James G. Zumwalt, USMC (Ret.), is a retired Marine infantry officer who served in the Vietnam war, the U.S. invasion of Panama and the first Gulf war. He is the author of “Bare Feet, Iron Will–Stories from the Other Side of Vietnam’s Battlefields,” “Living the Juche Lie: North Korea’s Kim Dynasty” and “Doomsday: Iran–The Clock is Ticking.” He frequently writes on foreign policy and defense issues.