Iran’s government has been criticized (and occasionally protested) for diverting funds away from domestic priorities to pay for the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), a designated terrorist organization with lavishly-financed terrorist proxy forces across the Middle East.
These criticisms became especially vigorous once the coronavirus began rampaging across Iran, creating the deadliest hot zone outside of China.
On Sunday, Radio Farda caught an IRGC general actually fundraising off the coronavirus with a video ad:
Circulating a commercial video on his Telegram Channel, IRGC Brigadier General Mohammad Baqer Qalibaf (Ghalibaf) has called upon people to deposit money in a little-known institution’s bank account and help it contain the deadly virus.
The institution is named after the eighth Shiite Imam, Ali ibn Musa al-Reza, buried in Iran’s second-largest city, Mashhad. The “Imam Reza Headquarters,” claims that it manufactures protective masks in fifty workshops across Iran, and it has also promised unnamed state-own entities to produce twenty million masks for free distribution among the poverty-stricken people in Iran.
Shockingly, the “Imam Reza Headquarters” sounds like a dodgy operation:
The “headquarters” is officially registered as the Mehr al-Reza Jihadi Foundation.
The shady outfit’s website maintains that it was established in a popular, spontaneous move in 2013 to assist “deprived people” in cultural and social fields.
Nevertheless, the website does not provide the foundation’s articles of association, the names of people on its board of directors nor the sources of its income.
Digging further, one finds out that the foundation was officially registered in 2016. Therefore, it is not clear how the unregistered and unlicensed entity operated and even won government contracts between 2013 and 2016.
Still digging further, one finds out that a mid-ranking cleric, Gholam Reza Qassemian, is named as the chairman of the foundation’s board of directors.
Widely known as Qalibaf’s “nightingale”, Qassemian is praised for his singing video clips. He is also the manager of Meshkat Shi’ite seminary.
Qalibaf’s name has been tied to huge corruption scandals at the Tehran municipality, during his tenure as mayor. When in 2017, a new city council was elected, news about billions of dollars having disappeared from the city’s coffers were revealed. But Qalibaf’s hardliner allies mercilessly attacked the new mayor and his aides who were disclosing episodes of his corruption.
According to Radio Farda’s research, prior to profiteering off the coronavirus outbreak, the foundation generated much of its income by strong-arming local officials into making “contributions” to finance pilgrimages to the Shiite holy city of Karbala in Iraq.
There are hundreds of similar operations in Iran that siphon millions of dollars away from the impoverished population under the patronage of powerful officials and clerics. Many of them double as get-out-the-vote machines for the benefit of their patrons during elections, which is one reason why even the most blatantly corrupt Iranian officials never seem to lose them.
The Iranian regime will once again rely on the IRGC and its local militias to suppress public demonstrations. According to the opposition PMOI/MEK organization, the government is already making plans to “counter potential protests as the public outrage over the regime’s mishandling of the situation continues to rise.”
PMOI/MEK quoted an Iranian state newspaper worrying that public backlash over the coronavirus could link with “previous developments, including the November 2019 incidents,” meaning the regime’s savage response to an earlier round of protests over rising gas prices. An even more proximate threat to the regime’s power, but one unlikely to be mentioned by a state newspaper, were the protests that erupted in January after Iran shot down a Ukrainian jetliner and murdered everyone aboard.
PMOI/MEK noted that Iranian President Hassan Rouhani is already saying the coronavirus epidemic is over and making ominous noises about the need for police and military forces on the street to control unrest. State media is floating theories that opportunistic foreign agitators (meaning the United States) will use the coronavirus to overthrow the regime:
“Coronavirus is the new pretext to encourage commotion and conflicts”, wrote state-run media Raja News on March 15.
“Among those who try to say that Iran is an exceptional country that is incapable of handling the coronavirus crisis and is lying, some internal and external currents try to blame us for the outbreak in Iran and other parts of the world. Some British media and the MEK (People’s Mojahedin Organization of Iran) spoke about their wishes and eventual plans for street riots and encouraging people for norm-breaking movements,” Raja News wrote.
On March 2, the same source had complained about the figures and statistics obtained and published by the MEK: “The course of anti-system media on the number of coronavirus victims: Maryam Rajavi is in front comparable to other competitors,” Raja News wrote.
The regime is essentially ordering Iranians to ignore the growing police, military, and militia presence in the streets and denouncing fears that martial law will soon be imposed as “fake news.”