May 24, 2024 | Policy Brief

Mohammad Mokhber: Khamenei’s Confidant

May 24, 2024 | Policy Brief

Mohammad Mokhber: Khamenei’s Confidant

On May 19, 2024, Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi died in a helicopter crash. Mohammad Mokhber, the first deputy president, will serve as interim president until Iran holds elections for a new president.

Iran has 12 deputy (or vice) presidents, each of whom supervises different portfolios. Mokhber, as first deputy, assumes the presidency in accordance with Article 131 of the constitution, which states that if the president dies, the first deputy becomes interim president. The interim president, speaker of the parliament, and chief justice, each representing a different branch of government, now must arrange an election within 50 days to elect the next president for a full four-year term.

Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei trusts Mokhber, who spent much of his career helping Khamenei manage his considerable business empire. Mokhber comes from a clerical family from the oil-rich Khuzestan province, adjacent to Iraq’s Basra governorate. Prior to the 1979 Islamic Revolution, he was a member of Mansouroun, an Islamist terror group that also incubated a number of figures who rose to the top ranks of the Islamic Republic including Vice President and unsuccessful presidential candidate Mohsen Rezaei, Ministers of Defense Ali Shamkhani and Mohammad Forouzandeh, Expediency Council Secretary Mohammad Bagher Zolghadr, and late Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) commander in Khoramshahr Mohammad Jahan Ara.

He came to national notice when he moved to Tehran to join the Mostazafan Foundation, which handles much of Khamenei’s business. He managed the foundation’s transport department and facilitated the creation of Irancell telecom company as a joint venture between South Africa’s MTN, the Mostazafan Foundation, and the Defense Ministry. He also served as chair of Mostazafan’s Sina bank, which the United States sanctioned in 2018 as part of a financial network that was supporting the Basij, an IRGC-controlled paramilitary force, that recruits and trains child soldiers.

In 2007, Mokhber became the CEO of the Execution of Imam Khomeini’s Order (Setad), the crown jewel of Khamenei’s business empire, and managed the company until Raisi appointed him vice president in 2021. Setad maintains a presence across Iran’s economy, from finance to oil and pharmaceuticals. Mokhber took advantage of the influx of foreign capital after the 2015 Iran nuclear deal to grow Setad, though the company suffered when Secretary of State Mike Pompeo instituted the Maximum Pressure campaign. Setad’s role in producing ineffective COVID-19 vaccines eroded his reputation among many Iranians. The U.S. Department of the Treasury and the European Union sanctioned Mokhber for his Setad role, though the Europeans later delisted him.

Mokhber was never a passive, powerless vice president in Raisi’s administration. As Khamenei’s representative in the government, he was involved in important decision-making. His extensive executive experience and connections to the supreme leader enabled him to run the government on Raisi’s behalf.

What does this mean for Mokhber’s interim presidency? Expect more of the same. Not only does the supreme leader formulate important policies, but Khamenei’s aide will also now implement them from an elevated position. The only question that remains is whether Khamenei will make the arrangement permanent with July’s elections merely a rubber stamp.

Saeed Ghasseminejad is a senior advisor on Iran and financial economics at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies (FDD), where he contributes to FDD’s Iran Program and Center on Economic and Financial Power (CEFP). Follow Saeed on X @SGhasseminejad. For more analysis from Saeed and FDD, please subscribe HERE. FDD is a Washington, DC-based, non-partisan research institute focusing on national security and foreign policy.

Issues:

Iran Iran Politics and Economy