With less than two weeks to go before Iran’s presidential election, the US today accused the country’s leaders of earning billions of dollars through front companies that also help the regime to circumvent international sanctions. The timing suggests an attempt to influence the election by tarnishing the reputation of Iran’s rulers.
The allegations come on the heels of the Obama administration’s announcement that it has tightened sanctions on Iran by cracking down on companies that use the rial, the country’s currency. It was the ninth successive set of US economic penalties against Iran, which are intended to pressure the government to renounce its nuclear development program.
Experts disagree on whether the sanctions will work. At the very least, Iran appears determined to develop what it calls a peaceful nuclear energy program. The Iranian public appears to be solidly behind the goal, and does not seem to have been dissuaded by the continually tightening economic squeeze. But Mark Dubowitz, an Iran sanctions expert at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies in Washington, said that the financial penalties do have impact. “Sanctions are the ‘drip-drip-drip’ of Chinese water torture occasionally followed by waves of shock to the Iranian economy,” Dubowitz told me by email.
In its announcement today, the US Treasury Department released a PDF slide depicting a web of 37 companies that it accused of evading international sanctions to enrich powerful Iranians. The statement does not name any current Iranian leaders, nor does it specify how US officials know that revenue is going directly to them as well as the government.
According to the allegations, the companies all sit under the rubric of a company called “Imam Khomeini’s Order” (EIKO), which was established about a decade ago to manage the commercial holdings of Iranian leaders. EIKO has two main groups of subsidiaries—one collected under the Tosee Eqtesad Ayandehsazan Company (TEACO), and the other under the Tadbir Economic Development Group.
The Treasury Department said that EIKO had earned tens of billions of dollars through the sale and management of real estate and other businesses. It names front companies in Croatia, Germany, South Africa and the UAE. Many of the listed companies appear to be in the oil industry.
“Even as economic conditions in Iran deteriorate, senior Iranian leaders profit from a shadowy network of off-the-books front companies,” David Cohen, undersecretary for terrorism and financial intelligence, was quoted as saying in the press release.