Revolutionary Guard has taken over Iran’s economy, secret files said to show

Opposition group provides UK’s The Times with memos showing how powerful unit is involved in key aspects of country’s finances; analyst talks of IRGC plan to target global Jewry

Members of Iran's Revolutionary Guard Corps are seen at an annual military parade in front of the mausoleum of the late Ayatollah Khomeini just outside Tehran on September 22, 2014. (AP/Ebrahim Noroozi/File)
Members of Iran's Revolutionary Guard Corps are seen at an annual military parade in front of the mausoleum of the late Ayatollah Khomeini just outside Tehran on September 22, 2014. (AP/Ebrahim Noroozi/File)

Iran’s powerful Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) has a firm grip on the country’s economy through companies it operates, making the powerful military outfit a key decision-maker on foreign policy, according to secret documents obtained by Britain’s The Times newspaper.

Memos obtained by the People’s Mojahedin Organisation of Iran (MEK) opposition group indicate the IRGC has effectively taken control of Iran’s economy, according to the report published Saturday.

The confidential documents dealt with the activities of the Resistance Economy Headquarters, an organization that was set up after the US killed senior IRGC commander General Qassem Soleimani in a missile strike in 2020. The aim of the Resistance Economy Headquarters was to give the military greater control over economic matters.

According to the MEK, this means that trade with Iran is funding the IRGC and its military operations.

“All business with the mullahs feeds the IRGC, internal repression and terror, regional warfare, and the program to acquire nuclear weapons and ballistic missiles,” Shahin Gobadi, a spokesman for the MEK told The Times.

Experts agreed that the IRGC sponsors terror globally, murdering and kidnapping dissidents in Europe and intervening in civil wars in Iraq, Syria and Afghanistan.

Iranians lift national flags during a ceremony in the capital Tehran, on January 3, 2022, commemorating the second anniversary of the killing in Iraq of top Iranian commander Qassem Soleimani (portrait) and Iraqi commander Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis in a US raid. (Atta Kenare/AFP)

Catherine Perez-Shakdam, a Middle East analyst, told The Times that the IRGC also has elaborate plans to target global Jewry as part of its strategy against Israel.

Mohammad Bagheri, an IRGC commander under sanctions from the United Kingdom for providing Russia with military drones, is head of the Resistance Economy Headquarters.

The documents were made up of memos from Bagheri to other IRGC and military commanders concerning oil production and ties with countries friendly to Iran. One contained instructions for military chiefs to put forward economic cooperation projects with China for Iran’s President Ebrahim Raisi to propose when he visited that country earlier this year.

In this picture released by the official website of the office of the Iranian supreme leader, Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, center, listens to chief of the General Staff of the Armed Forces Gen. Mohammad Hossein Bagheri at a graduation ceremony for a group of armed forces cadets at the police academy in Tehran, Iran, October 3, 2022. (Office of the Iranian Supreme Leader via AP)

A letter from October 2020 which was sent to Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei recommended “combating” Western sanctions against the country by building more oil refineries and petrochemical plants. It referred to “investors,” including “affiliated companies of the armed forces,” as well as Khamenei’s personal fund, estimated to be worth $100 billion.

Another memo dealt with projects in Uzbekistan and listed a range of companies linked to the armed forces, noting that the Resistance Economy Headquarters could negotiate with Uzbekistan “on behalf of the economic institutions of the armed forces.” Among the available services discussed are tractor manufacturing, thermal power plants and magnesium mining.

Though the report admitted the documents were hard to authenticate, independent experts told the newspaper they seemed typical of Iranian bureaucracy.

Ali Ansari, professor of Iranian history and director of the Institute for Iranian Studies at the University of St Andrews, told The Times: “The documents would appear to confirm the growing dominance of the IRGC in Iran’s economy through a burgeoning number of front companies and their role in extending commercial relations in the region.”

“They are especially interesting for the light they throw on the way the country’s oil wealth is distributed among revolutionary institutions, including the Supreme Leader’s office,” he noted.

Last month, the United States, UK and European Union toughened sanctions against the IRGC as part of new restrictions on Tehran over alleged human rights violations.

Western sanctions have targeted what officials called a brutal crackdown against protests and demonstrations, as well as violations on its nuclear programs.

In response to earlier restrictions, Iran has imposed its own sanctions on the UK and the EU.

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