In the newest round of factional feuds in the Iranian regime, an individual named Vahid Ashtari revealed how the daughter-in-law of Mehdi Khamoushi, head of the state-run Awqaf and Charitable Affairs Organization, has taken ownership of 150 acres of land by paying only ten million rials, or roughly $20.
Mona Chaichian, the daughter-in-law of Mehdi Khamoushi, head of the Awqaf and Charitable Affairs Organization, is the first individual whose corruption report related to the organization has been published in the media. What is this organization and how ifs function?
Endowment and charity organizations in Iran are frequently called “The Richest and Most Profitable Government Organizations in Iran.” However, this characterization may not accurately portray their actual nature. These organizations don’t provide precise statistics regarding the number of endowments and their income, and their reports often lack comprehensive details. Officials affiliated with these organizations have made scattered and occasionally conflicting statements over the past two decades, further adding to the ambiguity surrounding them.
The Organization of Endowments and Charitable Affairs is a governmental entity in Iran with the responsibility of overseeing various aspects related to endowments. Official reports indicate that the organization’s scope of activities includes the following areas:
Management of public endowments without trustees.
Handling of special endowments.
Administration of Islamic religious sites.
Facilitating the distribution of bequests, where individuals designate a portion of their property for specific purposes, such as charitable causes.
Preservation and maintenance of religious monuments.
Management of encumbrances, which refer to waqf properties entrusted by individuals for specific purposes.
Facilitating vows made by individuals.
Coordination and management of charitable contributions.
Oversight of any other properties designated for public benefit and charitable purposes, excluding endowments.
Additionally, this organization is responsible for overseeing the so-called charitable institutions and associations. Despite these responsibilities and defined missions, there are no supervisory bodies, such as courts, auditors, audit organizations, or the country’s inspection organization, tasked with monitoring the performance of this organization.
Like other huge financial institutions, this organization is also linked to the regime’s Supreme Leader, Ali Khamenei, who controls a vast financial empire with at least 14 powerhouses that dominate the country’s economy.
In the paper, the Organization of Endowments and Charitable Affairs is considered quasi-governmental because it falls under the supervision of the Ministry of Culture and Islamic Guidance, but its head is appointed by Khamenei. Performance reports from this organization are sent to his office, and only if deemed appropriate a copy is provided to the Minister of Culture and Islamic Guidance for informational purposes.
As a result, the Minister of Culture and Islamic Guidance does not possess any supervisory authority over the organization’s performance, and even the regime’s members of parliament cannot question the minister regarding the organization’s activities.
A Secret Corruption?
The notion of waqf (endowment) boasts a venerable lineage in Iran, with historical research indicating its origins within the administrative structure of the Samanid era, where it oversaw mosque affairs. In the aftermath of the constitutional revolution in 1906, the Ministry of Education, Endowment, and Endowment Industries materialized as the inaugural “official” institution devoted to endowments.
On the 6th of December 1964, the Awqaf Organization was relocated from the Ministry of Culture to the Prime Minister’s Office, with the appointment of one of the Deputy Prime Ministers as its head. Following the 1979 revolution, the new endowment organization experienced an augmentation of both its authority and scope. Recognizing the need for comprehensive management, the Islamic Republic’s Majlis, in 1984, resolved to establish the Hajj and Endowment and Charitable Affairs Organization, entrusting its supervision to the Ministry of Culture and Islamic Guidance.
From its inception, it was explicitly stipulated that the leader of the organization would be appointed by the supreme leader of the regime. In 2001, a notable shift in the organization’s administration transpired when the Hajj department dissociated from the Awqaf and Charitable Affairs Organization. This development heralded a new phase in the organization’s governance, driven by its augmented wealth stemming from early confiscations of dissidents’ properties.
Much of the confiscated wealth belongs to the supporters and members of Iran’s principal opposition group, the People’s Mojahedin Organization of Iran (PMOI/MEK), or their family members.
As result, a litany of instances of economic corruption has surfaced within this organization, with almost annual revelations since its establishment. Notwithstanding, these instances have never been brought to the media’s attention, as internal protocols within the organization prohibit the disclosure of potential infractions, the tally of endowments, or financial figures.
The precise valuation of the properties owned by the Endowment and Charity Organization remains undisclosed. According to a report titled “Challenges and Damages of Endowment Management,” published by the Parliament’s Research Center in 2010, it was noted that there are over 110,000 endowments in Iran.
Furthermore, the report indicates the existence of more than 700,000 immovable properties, defined within the legal framework of the Islamic Republic as individuals possessing usufruct rights over a real estate unit and its surroundings.
Nine years later, in 2019, Shuzab Shiri, the Director General of Inspection and Evaluation of Performance and Complaint Handling within the Awqaf and Charitable Affairs Organization, revealed that there are 1.8 million endowments in the country.
In 2020, an official from the Awqaf organization claimed the establishment of a comprehensive database containing information on all endowments in Iran. Regrettably, this database remains inaccessible to the public.
In December 2022, Iranian news agencies, citing Sajjad Nikpour, the head of the Department of Registration and Real Estate of the Organization of Endowments and Charities, reported the registration of over 1.5 million endowments in the country. It was further stated that more than 70% of the immovable properties had been officially deeded, while approximately 30%, equivalent to roughly 240,000 properties, remained unregistered.
The organization asserts that its income from endowments originates from three primary sources: rent, sale, and conversion to Ahsan (a form of Islamic donation), as well as investments. However, officials within the organization acknowledge that the majority of their income is derived from rent.
Over two decades ago, in 2000, the Majlis Research Center reported an income of 120 billion Rials generated from rents received by the endowment organization. Nonetheless, the report emphasized the lack of clarity regarding the percentage of rent obtained from immovable property.
By 2006, out of the 700,000 identified property units, only 70,000 units, approximately 10%, were being rented. During the same year, the endowment and charity organization announced an income of 580 billion and 870 million rials. Notably, this occurred despite the Central Bank of the Islamic Republic of Iran reporting oil revenue of around 290 billion rials during that period.
Opaque Revenues and Unrelenting Budgetary Demands
Despite the passage of a decade since the parliament’s Research Center issued its comprehensive report, obtaining detailed information regarding the financial accounts of the Organization of Endowments and Charitable Affairs remains an elusive endeavor.
Two years ago, Mehdi Khamoushi disclosed that the organization’s initial income for the year 2020 amounted to approximately 1.7 quadrillion rials. He also expressed aspirations to reach a staggering 3.5 quadrillion Rials by year-end.
In addition to the rental income derived from endowments, the organization also generates revenue from religious monuments. However, the specific figures related to this income remain nebulous, and more importantly, the allocation and utilization of these funds remain uncertain.
According to certain sources, these revenues are directly deposited into the account of Ali Khamenei, the leader of the Islamic Republic. In conjunction with the substantial income derived from the properties under its purview, the Awqaf organization also receives a distinct allocation from the country’s general budget.
Over the past five years, the organization of endowments and charitable affairs has received an approximate sum of 2.1 quadrillion rials from the general government budget. In 2010, this organization was allocated a budget of around 740 billion rials, which subsequently increased to 14.2 trillion rials in 2019.
In 2021, the endowment and charity organization secured 3.5 trillion rials from the government’s general budget. However, in 2022, the organization’s budget soared to 6 trillion rials. In the current year the organization expects to receive over 10 trillion rials from the government’s allocations.
Corruption and Lack of Transparency
Previous instances of potential corruption within the organization have been deliberately omitted from media coverage and have failed to yield conclusive outcomes from subsequent investigations.
The most notable violations observed within the endowment organization include the alteration of property usage and the appropriation of properties under the pretext of endowment. These violations occur with minimal oversight over the activities of the endowment board of trustees. In the event that violations are identified, the board of trustees resorts to measures such as offering bribes to supervisory authorities to prevent the disclosure of these infractions to the media.
Furthermore, the report highlights a contentious claim regarding the registration of Damavand Peak, along with its 18,000 hectares of foothill land, under the auspices of the Organization of Endowments and Charitable Affairs. Although this claim was initially refuted, subsequent confirmation revealed that approximately 100 hectares of the foothills had indeed been taken over by the Awqaf organization.
The recent focus on the enigmatic Organization of Endowments and Charitable Affairs, which operates under the oversight of the leader of the Islamic Republic, has been instigated by an economic corruption report involving the alleged transfer of a substantial endowment “free of charge” to the head’s daughter-in-law.
Iran’s position in Transparency International’s 2022 Corruption Perception Index is a dismal 147th out of 180 countries. While the monarchy under the Shah was notorious for its nepotism and state corruption, earning the nickname “The Thousand Families” (Hezar Famil), the regime of the mullahs, which seized power in the 1979 revolution, has far surpassed the economic misconduct of its predecessor.
Under the guise of “combating corruption,” regime
officials shamelessly engage in unbounded deceit, establishing a system of nepotism that knows no bounds. While the majority of Iranians struggle to make ends meet, deprived of basic necessities like bread and forced to sleep on buses or in empty graves, the ruling kleptocracy continues to plunder public funds. Corruption and nepotism have been deeply entrenched in the mullahs’ regime since its inception.
Mohammad Bagher Ghalibaf, the current Parliament Speaker, openly admitted in 2016 that only a mere 4% of society in Iran live decent lives, and they are predominantly regime officials and their relatives. Meanwhile, disturbing reports from Iran reveal an increasing number of Iranians resorting to selling their body parts to survive.
Khamenei, who rose to power thanks to the 1979 revolution that ousted the Shah, is fully aware that relying on nepotism to navigate through domestic and international crises is futile. However, the mullahs’ 43 years of authoritarian rule have taught him that instilling fear is more advantageous than earning respect. His appointment of the virtually illiterate IRGC soldier Ebrahim Raisi to the presidency exemplifies a complete disregard for a merit-based governance system.
The supreme leader aims to ensure the survival of his regime. Yet, blinded by his hunger for power, he, like any other dictator, underestimates the determination of the Iranian people to overthrow his oppressive rule. In doing so, he repeats the gravest mistake made by the Shah—ignoring the unwavering resolve of the Iranian population.
Source » ncr-iran