Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan is facing one of the most serious challenges yet to his undisputed 11-year dominance. Recent charges of money laundering, gold smuggling and bribery have tarnished Erdogan’s carefully crafted image.
Erdogan’s Justice and Development Party (AKP), which means “white” or “pure” in Turkish, has also come under scrutiny. The root of Erdogan’s problems and his recent scandals lie not in Turkey but with its arch-nemesis, Iran.
Corruption is nothing new in Iran.
But the magnitude and institutionalization of corruption in Iran’s Islamic regime are unprecedented. So is the amount of money involved in the recent Iranian-Turkish affair. Two Iranian businessmen, Reza Zarrab and Babak Zanjani (both now arrested), allegedly laundered close to $100 billion of Iranian oil money.
Using a complicated oil-for-gold scheme, the two paid tens of millions of dollars in bribes and kickbacks to Turkish officials. Zanjani, a former driver for the head of Iran’s central bank, started his shady dealings selling Iranian currency at the open market. It is not clear how or why a driver had the ability to sell millions of dollars in the open market, but recent revelations indicate Zanjani was given over $10b. worth of Iranian oil to sell. Yet, according to Iranian sources, the proceeds never found their way back to Iran’s treasury.
Zanjani does not even deny this charge but rather blames it on international sanctions, claiming that his bank account was frozen and he was therefore unable to wire the funds.
There is no end to the corruption.
Take Saeed Mortazavi. A former prosecutor, Mortazavi became a household name during the investigation into the arrest, rape and murder of Canadian photojournalist Zahra Kazemi. It was later revealed that Mortazavi was personally involved in Kazemi’s murder. In 2009, a parliamentary investigation also found him responsible for the deaths and torture of at least three other jailed anti-government protesters.
None of this, however, got in the way of his appointment as the head of Iran’s Social Security Services, a government institution with an investment arm that controls over 200 Iranian companies. Mortazavi’s position enabled him to help sell government assets under the pretext of privatization.
He was even filmed demanding a 700 square-meter villa in return for his efforts.
When Khomeini returned to Iran in 1979 he celebrated his victory by ordering the execution of hundreds of officials of the former regime. Pictures of highly educated westernized officials of the late Shah’s regime were dominating the papers yet again – but this time naked and bloodied, with visible bullet holes.
They were all charged with “Muffsed- Fel-Arz,” which translates as “spreader of corruption on earth.” Khomeini, like Erdogan in Turkey, promised to fight and eradicate corruption. Now, 35 years on, the regime he established is not only corrupt to its very core, but its corruption has spread beyond Iran’s borders and threatens to bring down Erdogan’s government in neighboring Turkey.
HOW DID it all begin? Despite his public image as an incorruptible cleric indifferent to worldly pursuits, Khomeini was not blind when it came to money. In a decree issued shortly after the revolution, he transferred control of all assets of the former royal family and supporters of the old regime into an account in his personal name. In the same decree, he declared that these assets do not belong to the government and that he would personally supervise their distribution among the poor.
Khomeini appointed his supporters, mostly clerics, to manage and supervise confiscated property, factories, agricultural conglomerates and other assets. All of these were exempt from any government oversight. No taxes were collected and those in charge were answerable to Khomeini alone.
It’s unknown what happened to all these assets, but it seems clear that they didn’t find their way to the country’s poor. According to the League for the Defense of Human Rights in Iran, over 50% of the 75 million-plus population live under the poverty line.
Following Khomeini’s death in 1989 the new supreme leader, Ayatollah Khamenei, followed his predecessor’s example. A recent Reuter’s investigation, “Assets of the Ayatollah,” reveals that Khamenei amassed the equivalent of a staggering $95b. dollars using the same decree.
Purity, justice and development are popular slogans in this region. But Iran’s true colors have clearly shown through. Is it too late for Turkish Prime Minister Erdogan? Or can he reverse his course and stop Turkey from going down the same dark path as its neighbor.
Dr. Nir Boms is a co-founder of Cyber- Dissidensts.org. Shayan Arya is an expert on Iran and a member of the Constitutionalist Party of Iran (Liberal Democrat).