Iran’s supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei is secretly controlling a business empire worth over $95 billion, Reuters reported on Monday, following a six-month long investigation into Khamenei’s financial affairs.
According to Reuters, Khamenei accumulated his wealth through a little-known organisation known as Setad, which seizes thousands of Iranian properties in the name of the supreme leader.
Reuters also claimed that Setad would sometimes falsely claim the properties as abandoned before snapping them up, then selling them on to auctions for huge profits.
The resulting funds allows Setad to purchase stakes in nearly every sector of Iranian industry including finance, oil, telecommunications, the production of birth-control pills and even ostrich farming.
Setad is believed to have been first established after the 1979 Islamic revolution, whereby its original purpose was to help veterans of the Iran-Iraq war.
Yet almost a quarter-century on and under Ayatollah Ali Khamenei’s control, Setad has morphed into a business juggernaut with real estate, corporate stakes and other assets. While Setad controls a charitable foundation, it's not clear how much money goes to charity.
In June, the U.S. Treasury Department also imposed sanctions on Setad and some of its corporate holdings, calling the organisation "a massive network of front companies hiding assets on behalf of ... Iran's leadership."
Setad's total worth is difficult to pinpoint because of the secrecy of its accounts. Its books areeven off limits even to Iran's legislative branch. Nevertheless, by identifying at least 24 companies that Setad held a stake in, Reuters estimated that their fortune could be worth around $95 billion, made up of about $52 billion in real estate and $43 billion in corporate holdings.
If the estimates are correct, it would mean that Iran Supreme Leader would be controlling a sum more than the value of Iran’s own annual petroleum exports.
Setad's director general of public relations, Hamid Vaezi, has responded via email to Reuters, describing the information presented as "far from realities and is not correct." He did not however 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 organisation could prejudice our dispute in the United States and harm our position for which we hold you responsible."