In the book Bazaar and State in Iran, Arang Keshavarzian gives us a closer look at the largest bonyad in Iran, the Bonyad-e Mostazafan, or the Foundation for the Oppressed and Disabled (often called the Foundation of the Oppressed and Disabled Veterans after the Iran-Iraq War).
The Foundation of the Oppressed and Disabled, the principal holder of assets seized from the royal family, is the largest of these [bonyad] foundations and is sometimes referred to as the “government within the government.” In 1982, the foundation owned 203 manufacturing and industrial factories, 472 large farms, 101 construction firms, and 238 trade and service companies. In the past two decades it has used these already large assets to expand its activities into all areas of the economy, including manufacturing, commerce, banking, tourism, and telecommunications.
It is difficult to estimate their total assets because the foundations’ accounts are not public, but whatever the exact extent of these parastatal organs’ asset base, analysts agree that the scant supervision has encouraged inefficiencies, mismanagement, and embezzlement. For instance, in 1995, a court found several key figures of the Foundation of the Oppressed and Disabled guilty of embezzlement, although the head of the foundation escaped conviction.
Over time the foundations’ economic prominence and prosperity have continued, if not expanded. They have been able to circumvent the official trade system, while their political ties have given them access to subsidized foreign currency without performance criteria. Therefore, the foundations can import, export, and sell goods below market prices and the production costs of local producers… Moreover, independent capitalists cannot compete with the state-affiliated establishments that are exempted from duties and time-consuming bureaucratic hurdles…”
According to IranWatch, Bonyad-e Mostazafan is “listed by the German government as a risky end-user in warnings supplied to its exporters; identified by the British government in February 1998 as having procured goods and/or technology for weapons of mass destruction program.”
Law professor Russell Powell recently wrote, “The largest bonyad, Bonyad-e Mostazafin, supports the family members of martyrs and has $12 billion in assets and employs 400,000.”
Suicide bombing pay-outs, palm-greasing, commercial rackets… remind me again which department at Bonyad-e Mostafazan serves the poor, the oppressed, and the disabled?