April 2, 2020 | Policy Brief

Khamenei Uses Iran State TV to Turn a Profit Amid COVID-19 Outbreak

April 2, 2020 | Policy Brief

Khamenei Uses Iran State TV to Turn a Profit Amid COVID-19 Outbreak

Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, is profiting during the coronavirus outbreak from contracts with state entities complicit in torture, according to a newly leaked video of a meeting of Iran’s COVID-19 Control Task Force. Khamenei’s conglomerate, formally known as the Headquarters to Implement Imam Khomenei’s Decree (EIKO), uses the Islamic Republic of Iran Broadcasting (IRIB), Iran’s state-owned broadcast media monopoly, to advance the supreme leader’s personal economic interests.

Radio Farda reported on Monday that in the video, which was posted to Twitter, IRIB Director General Abdulali Ali Asgari, whom the United States sanctioned in 2018, declined President Hassan Rouhani’s request that IRIB air free advertising for online retailers aimed at encouraging Iranians to stay home and shop on the internet. Asgari told Rouhani that TOSKA – the Persian acronym for a company registered as “Developing Iranian Businesses” – “will sue the state TV if IRIB does that.”

TOSKA is linked to Khamenei’s office through a web of companies, including Tadbir Holding, the financial wing of EIKO. TOSKA’s main shareholders include Naqsh Aval Keyfiat, Mobile Communications Company, and Tose’eh Nour Dena Investment Company, all of which have ties to Tadbir Holding and are “intertwined like a cobweb,” according to Farda.

Farda reported that TOSKA was an affiliate of Hamrah Avval, a company with shares that transferred to EIKO after an agreement for IRIB to outsource its lucrative advertising operations to Yas Holding fell through. Yas Holding, a company linked to the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) Intelligence Organization, was initially awarded the contract. However, in September 2017, Yas Holding lost it to the newly-formed TOSKA following a major financial corruption scandal involving the embezzlement of at least 130 trillion rials (more than $3 billion, per the official exchange rate).

Since securing this contract with IRIB, TOSKA has controlled IRIB’s most profitable venture: advertisements. As such, Asgari presumably understood that TOSKA would object to IRIB airing advertisements that would deny it income.

Though Ayatollah Khamenei rails against gambling on IRIB, TOSKA created Rubika, an application belonging to the supreme leader’s office that IRIB uses to run Iran’s biggest lotteries, earning the country’s state broadcaster the nickname “IRIB casino.” The Persian website Khabar Online estimates that IRIB accrues 40 trillion rials (approximately $950 million) annually from its lottery business.

IRIB has also received international condemnation for collaborating with the IRGC Intelligence Organization and the Ministry of Intelligence to broadcast forced false confessions of political prisoners. Through prolonged solitary confinement, beatings until victims are unconscious, terrorizing family members, and threats to forcibly inject victims with hallucinogenic drugs, the regime coerces prisoners into falsely confessing on camera for state television programs.

During Iran’s November 2019 protests, Rouhani and Interior Minister Abdolerza Rahmani Fazli asked IRIB to broadcast forced confessions of the demonstrators. IRIB subsequently aired a pseudo-documentary with footage of protestors falsely confessing to collaborating with foreign entities to kill Iranian security forces.

In 2017, the government of Iran allocated 30 trillion rials (about $750 million) to IRIB to be used over the course of five years to operate in 20 countries and broadcast 13 international television channels.

Even amidst a devastating public health crisis, Khamenei’s conglomerate is looking out for his personal interests rather than those of the Iranian people. Policymakers should factor in Khamenei’s abuse of his massive financial holdings before adding to his coffers by relieving economic sanctions.

Toby Dershowitz is senior vice president for government relations and strategy at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies (FDD), where Talia Katz is a government relations analyst. They are the co-authors of the recently published monograph “Torture TV: The Case for Sanctions on the Islamic Republic of Iran’s State-Run Media,” and both contribute to FDD’s Center on Economic and Financial Power (CEFP). For more analysis from Toby, Talia, and CEFP, please subscribe HERE. Follow Toby and Talia on Twitter at @tobydersh and @taliagkatz. Follow FDD on Twitter @FDD and @FDD_CEFP. FDD is a Washington, DC-based, nonpartisan research institute focusing on national security and foreign policy.

Issues:

COVID-19 Iran Iran Global Threat Network Iran Human Rights Iran Politics and Economy