Leitura para o fim-de-semana: o império económico do Ayatollah Ali Khamenei

É uma organização pouco conhecida. Chama-se Setad e é controlado por apenas um homem. Acontece que esse homem é apenas o mais poderoso do Irão. O supremo líder. O Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. Por isso, ela cresceu. Muito. Até se tornar o maior proprietário e império empresarial do Irão. Durante seis meses uma equipa de repórteres da agência Reuters investigou-a. Começaram com um gráfico. Um dos ramos referia-se a imóveis que o Estado tinha confiscado a iranianos. O passo seguinte foi encontrá-los. Os jornalistas obtiveram documentos internos, entrevistaram antigos funcionários, analisaram dados da bolsa iraniana e de empresas do país. E conseguiram reunir informação suficiente para perceber que é a Setad quem está por detrás do poder de Khamenei. Ela dá-lhe os meios que precisa para controlar o país. Nem sequer necessita do orçamento do Estado. Vale a pena ler.

Foto: REUTERS/Khamenei.ir/Handout

Foto: REUTERS/Khamenei.ir/Handout

Khamenei controls massive financial empire built on property seizures

By Steve StecklowBabak Dehghanpisheh and Yeganeh Torbati
Part 1: A Reuters investigation details a key to the supreme leader’s power: a little-known organization created to help the poor that morphed into a business juggernaut worth tens of billions of dollars.
The 82-year-old Iranian woman keeps the documents that upended her life in an old suitcase near her bed. She removes them carefully and peers at the tiny Persian script.

There’s the court order authorizing the takeover of her children’s three Tehran apartments in a multi-story building the family had owned for years. There’s the letter announcing the sale of one of the units. And there’s the notice demanding she pay rent on her own apartment on the top floor.

Pari Vahdat-e-Hagh ultimately lost her property. It was taken by an organization that is controlled by the most powerful man in Iran: Supreme LeaderAyatollah Ali Khamenei. She now lives alone in a cramped, three-room apartment in Europe, thousands of miles from Tehran.

The Persian name of the organization that hounded her for years is “Setad Ejraiye Farmane Hazrate Emam” – Headquarters for Executing the Order of the Imam. The name refers to an edict signed by the Islamic Republic’s first leader, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, shortly before his death in 1989. His order spawned a new entity to manage and sell properties abandoned in the chaotic years after the 1979 Islamic Revolution.

Setad has become one of the most powerful organizations in Iran, though many Iranians, and the wider world, know very little about it. In the past six years, it has morphed into a business juggernaut that now holds stakes in nearly every sector of Iranian industry, including finance, oil, telecommunications, the production of birth-control pills and even ostrich farming.

The organization’s total worth is difficult to pinpoint because of the secrecy of its accounts. But Setad’s holdings of real estate, corporate stakes and other assets total about $95 billion, Reuters has calculated. That estimate is based on an analysis of statements by Setad officials, data from the Tehran Stock Exchange and company websites, and information from the U.S. Treasury Department.

Just one person controls that economic empire – Khamenei. As Iran’s top cleric, he has the final say on all governmental matters. His purview includes his nation’s controversial nuclear program, which was the subject of intense negotiations between Iranian and international diplomats in Geneva that ended Sunday without an agreement. It is Khamenei who will set Iran’s course in the nuclear talks and other recent efforts by the new president, Hassan Rouhani, to improve relations with Washington.

The supreme leader’s acolytes praise his spartan lifestyle, and point to his modest wardrobe and a threadbare carpet in his Tehran home. Reuters found no evidence that Khamenei is tapping Setad to enrich himself.

But Setad has empowered him. Through Setad,Khamenei has at his disposal financial resources whose value rivals the holdings of the shah, the Western-backed monarch who was overthrown in 1979.

How Setad came into those assets also mirrors how the deposed monarchy obtained much of its fortune – by confiscating real estate. A six-month Reuters investigation has found that Setad built its empire on the systematic seizure of thousands of properties belonging to ordinary Iranians: members of religious minorities like Vahdat-e-Hagh, who is Baha’i, as well as Shi’ite Muslims, business people and Iranians living abroad.

Setad has amassed a giant portfolio of real estate by claiming in Iranian courts, sometimes falsely, that the properties are abandoned. The organization now holds a court-ordered monopoly on taking property in the name of the supreme leader, and regularly sells the seized properties at auction or seeks to extract payments from the original owners.

The supreme leader also oversaw the creation of a body of legal rulings and executive orders that enabled and safeguarded Setad’s asset acquisitions. “No supervisory organization can question its property,” said Naghi Mahmoudi, an Iranian lawyer who left Iran in 2010 and now lives in Germany.

Khamenei’s grip on Iran’s politics and its military forces has been apparent for years. The investigation into Setad shows that there is a third dimension to his power: economic might. The revenue stream generated by Setad helps explain why Khamenei has not only held on for 24 years but also in some ways has more control than even his revered predecessor. Setad gives him the financial means to operate independently of parliament and the national budget, insulating him from Iran’s messy factional infighting.

Washington has acknowledged Setad’s importance. In June, the Treasury Department imposed sanctions on Setad and some of its corporate holdings, calling the organization “a massive network of front companies hiding assets on behalf of … Iran’s leadership.” The companies generate billions of dollars in revenue a year, the department stated, but it did not offer a detailed accounting.

The Iranian president’s office and the foreign ministry didn’t respond to requests for comment. Iran’s embassy in the United Arab Emirates issued a statement calling Reuters’ findings “scattered and disparate” and said that “none has any basis.” It didn’t elaborate.

Setad’s director general of public relations, Hamid Vaezi, said by email in response to a detailed description of this series that the information presented is “far from realities and is not correct.” He didn’t go into specifics.

In a subsequent message, he said Setad disputes the Treasury’s allegations and is “in the process of retaining U.S. counsel to address this matter.” He added: “This communication puts you on notice that any action by your organization could prejudice our dispute in the United States and harm our position for which we hold you responsible.”

When Khomeini, the first supreme leader, set in motion the creation of Setad, it was only supposed to manage and sell properties “without owners” and direct much of the proceeds to charity. Setad was to use the funds to assist war veterans, war widows “and the downtrodden.” According to one of its co-founders, Setad was to operate for no more than two years.

Setad has built schools, roads and health clinics, and provided electricity and water in rural and impoverished areas. It has assisted entrepreneurs in development projects. But philanthropy is just a small part of Setad’s overall operations.

Under Khamenei’s control, Setad began acquiring property for itself, and kept much of the funds rather than simply redistributing them. With those revenues, the organization also helps to fund the ultimate seat of power in Iran, the Beite Rahbar, or Leader’s House, according to a former Setad employee and other people familiar with the matter. The first supreme leader, Khomeini, had a small staff. To run the country today, Khamenei employs about 500 people in his administrative offices, many recruited from the military and security services.

A complete picture of Setad’s spending and income isn’t possible. Its books are off limits even to Iran’s legislative branch. In 2008, the Iranian Parliament voted to prohibit itself from monitoring organizations that the supreme leader controls, except with his permission.

But Reuters has put together the fullest account yet of the organization’s holdings. They include:

* A giant property portfolio

The head of Setad’s real-estate division said at a ceremony in 2008 that the unit was worth about $52 billion. The value of Iran’s currency has plunged since then, while property values have soared. The property portfolio has also changed, so its current value is hard to establish.

Setad regularly conducts large auctions of its real estate – at least 59 to date, according to a review of Iranian newspaper advertisements and auction websites. One recent auction took place in May, when nearly 300 properties went on the block – including houses, stores, tracts of farmland and even a spa-and-pool complex in Tehran. The required opening bids totaled about $88 million, based on the official exchange rate that month.

* An investment unit worth tens of billions of dollars

In June, the U.S. Treasury Department sanctionedSetad and 37 companies it controls over the organization’s alleged role in “assisting the Iranian Government’s circumvention of U.S. and international sanctions.” The Treasury also said Setad played a role in “generating revenue for the Iranian leadership,” and that one of its investment companies alone was worth about $40 billion in late 2010.

But the June action covered just part of Setad’s corporate holdings. According to a Treasury spokesman, sanctions only apply to subsidiaries if the targeted entity “owns 50 percent or more of a company.”

In practice, Setad controls many businesses in which it holds very small stakes. Reuters identified at least 24 public companies in which Setad – or a company it invested in – held less than 50 percent. Those holdings that are publicly traded are worth more than $3.4 billion, Reuters calculated. That figure includes about $3 billion Setad paid in 2009 for a stake in Iran’s largest telecommunications firm.

Reuters also identified 14 companies Setad has invested in – directly or through other companies – that couldn’t be valued because they are not publicly traded.

All told, Reuters was able to identify about $95 billion in property and corporate assets controlled by Setad. That amount is roughly 40 percent bigger than the country’s total oil exports last year. It also surpasses independent historians’ estimates of the late shah’s wealth.

After toppling the monarchy, the Islamic Republic filed suit in the United States against the shah and his wife, Farah Pahlavi, claiming they had stolen $35 billion in Iranian funds, according to court records. In today’s dollars, that sum would be worth about $79 billion. The suit was dismissed.

Abbas Milani, director of the Iranian Studies program at Stanford University who wrote a biography of the shah published in 2011, told Reuters he believes the estimate of the shah’s fortune was “extremely exaggerated.” He said the monarch led a truly opulent lifestyle – including owning an automobile collection that may have included 120 fancy vehicles. But, he wrote in the biography: “Those most likely to know estimate the Shah’s fortune to be close to a billion dollars.” With inflation, that would equal about $3 billion in today’s money, a fraction of the worth of Setad’s holdings.

O artigo completo tem três partes. E está aqui.

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