Rafsanjani’s riches

July 5, 2010

What Ayatollah Rafsanjani thinks of poor people

Allah is bounteous.  And Iran’s clerics are the recipients.

First, the imams receive copious revenues through the 20 percent Islamic khums tax on their parishioners as we have covered here.

Also, Shariah Finance Watch recently pointed to a Reuters article (via the Washington Post) noting that imams make a pretty penny selling prayers.

Lastly, the clerical establishment is a big winner of the bonyad racket.

Sooner or later all that money starts adding up.  Iran Focus provided a list in 2006 of the eight richest men in Iran.  It just so happens that six of those eight men are ayatollas/clerics.  One of the other two is the son of a cleric.  Only one appears to be a non-cleric.

Suppose that six of eight richest men in America were Billy Graham, Rick Warren, James Dobson, Pat Robertson, T.D. Jakes, and Joel Osteen.  Imagine the national outcry that would follow that report!

In Iran, the richest man (and ayatollah) of them all is Hashemi Rafsanjani.  Forbes provided this detail several years ago on how the Rafsanjanis were able transform themselves from little pistachio farmers into bigtime hacienda owners:

Most of the good properties and contracts, say dissident members of Iran’s Chamber of Commerce, ended up in the hands of mullahs, their associates and, not least, Rafsanjani’s family, who rose from modest origins as pistachio farmers. “They were not rich people, so they worked hard and always tried to help their relatives get ahead,” remembers Reza, a historian who declines to use his last name and who studied with one of Rafsanjani’s brothers at Tehran University in the early 1970s. “When they were in university, two brothers earned money on the side tutoring theological students and preparing their exam papers.”

The 1979 revolution transformed the Rafsanjani clan into commercial pashas. One brother headed the country’s largest copper mine; another took control of the state-owned TV network; a brother-in-law became governor of Kerman province, while a cousin runs an outfit that dominates Iran’s $400 million pistachio export business; a nephew and one of Rafsanjani’s sons took key positions in the Ministry of Oil; another son heads the Tehran Metro construction project (an estimated $700 million spent so far). Today, operating through various foundations and front companies, the family is also believed to control one of Iran’s biggest oil engineering companies, a plant assembling Daewoo automobiles, and Iran’s best private airline (though the Rafsanjanis insist they do not own these assets).

None of this sits well with the populace, whose per capita income is $1,800 a year. The gossip on the street, going well beyond the observable facts, has the Rafsanjanis stashing billions of dollars in bank accounts in Switzerland and Luxembourg; controlling huge swaths of waterfront in Iran’s free economic zones on the Persian Gulf; and owning whole vacation resorts on the idyllic beaches of Dubai, Goa and Thailand.

One might think that Iran’s oil and gas wealth would enrich the population.  But a khums/sharia-based economy like Iran’s primarily enriches the religious “scholars.”


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