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Khamenei-run conglomerate one of Iran deal’s biggest winners

Setad, with $95 billion in estimated worth under direct control of Tehran’s supreme leader, soon to be free of US sanctions

File: Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. (Screen capture: YouTube)
File: Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. (Screen capture: YouTube)

One of the main beneficiaries of the easing of sanctions on Iran in the framework of the nuclear deal reached with world powers in July will be Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.

According to a Reuters investigation, sanctions relief includes the lifting of restrictions on one of the most secretive and wealthy organizations in the Islamic Republic, the “Setad Ejraiye Farmane Hazrate Emam,” also called Setad or EIKO.

Founded in 1989, the network’s assets were estimated in 2013 at some $95 billion and are controlled exclusively by Khamenei himself.

The nuclear accord lifts secondary sanctions — that is, sanctions on non-US companies that do business with the Iranian conglomerate — on Setad itself and some 40 companies it owns in whole or part, the news agency reports.

Under the terms of the deal, Setad is to be removed from the US Treasury Department’s Specially Designated Nationals (SDN) list, allowing it to open overseas bank accounts and other take other financial actions outside Iran without its partners risking US sanctions.

US companies, financial institutions and individual citizens are still forbidden from dealings with the conglomerate.

Setad “has little connection to Iran’s nuclear program but is close to Iran’s ruling elite,” Reuters reports. Its delisting thus “feeds into US Republicans’ criticism that the deal will empower Iran’s hardliners and help fund its regional ambitions.”

US sanctions on Setad were introduced in June 2013 as an attempt to pressure Khamenei personally to back the then-stalled nuclear talks with world powers.

The conglomerate “produces billions of dollars in profits for the Iranian regime each year,” said then-under secretary of the treasury for terrorism and financial intelligence David Cohen at a Senate Banking Committee hearing.

The sanctioning of Setad was intended to put pressure on Khamenei personally. While it is not clear if his own net worth will change, Setad serves as a key arm of his power. Its assets were estimated in 2013 to be worth some $95 billion, largely built from the “systematic seizure of thousands of properties belonging to religious minorities, business people, and Iranians living abroad,” Reuters says.

The removal of sanctions on Setad “allows the ayatollah’s shady conglomerate to jeopardize the global financial system,” Republican Senator Cory Gardner, who sits on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said of the move. “These are bad actors who are now receiving the benefit of the bargain from the United States.”

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