Naji Sharifi-Zindashti during an event

Criminal Kingpin Leads Drugs Trade Thanks To IRGC

Wednesday, 05/17/2023

The Islamic Republic’s Revolutionary Guards (IRGC) have made a criminal Iran’s leading drug lord, Iran International can reveal.

Information obtained by Iran International shows how Naji Sharifi-Zindashti and his cartel now dominate the narcotics trade thanks to the support of the government militia.

His extraordinary rise comes despite his having killed a prison guard in Iran and fleeing abroad, only to return with impunity.

Investigative reporter Mojtaba Pourmohsen has uncovered how a recent rise in the number of executions of convicts sentenced to death on drug-related charges is the result of infighting between rival drug cartels with connections within the ranks of the IRGC.

Naji Sharifi-Zindashti

Emerging triumphant from this criminal war, Sharifi-Zindashti and his accomplices – dubbed “The Friends’ Club” – have used the IRGC’s vast reach and control over transit routes and logistics to gain the upper hand in Iran's drug market, according to sources.

The Club comprises senior IRGC officials and high-ranking members of Iran’s Supreme National Security Council as well as managers from Tehran Municipality and members of parliament.

Sharifi-Zindashti not only pays bribes but also supplies opium and heroin for the personal consumption of many of these senior officials.

According to the sources, Sharifi-Zindashti’s gangs traffic more than 20 percent of drugs distributed across Iran and about 35 percent of the drugs pushed in the capital Tehran.

The narcotics that are confiscated and destroyed as part of the Islamic Republic’s regular war on drugs mostly belong to rival gangs.

Iranian police arrested Zindashti in 1996 for a drug deal. Sentenced to death on drug-related charges, Zindashti along with an accomplice killed a guard during transfer to the court to testify in another case. Zindashti fled to Turkey, where he established a drug and human trafficking cartel.

Zindashti's villa in Istanbul with expensive cars and personalized license plates

He has since been cooperating with the Islamic Republic’s intelligence agencies in numerous cases, including the abduction in 2020 of Swedish-Iranian Habib Chaab (Asyud), a political activist and former leader of the Arab Struggle Movement for the Liberation of Ahwaz (ASMLA) who was executed earlier in the month.

In December 2020, the Turkish Police arrested 13 members of the Zindashti Cartel on charges of collaboration with Iranian intelligence. According to Turkey's official government news agency, Anatoli, the Iranian Intelligence Ministry had been using the gang to assassinate or abduct Iranian dissidents in Turkey at least since 2015.

Zindashti is also suspected to have been behind the assassination of Iranian dissident Masoud Molavi Vardanjani in Istanbul in November 2019. Molavi-Vardanjani, a former Iranian intelligence operative and a civil engineer by education, fled to Turkey in 2018 and launched a Telegram channel, called Black Box, focused on corruption allegations against Iran’s extraterritorial Qods Force, top officials in the office of Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei, judges and other senior figures.

In 2018 some of the members of the group and Zindashti himself were arrested in Turkey on suspicion of assassinating Saeed Karimian, the founder and head of Gem TV, and other killings related to drug trafficking. They were eventually freed, reportedly as a result of lobbying, bribery and lack of adequate evidence.

After his release Zindashti returned to Iran and despite his convictions for drug trafficking and the killing of a prison guard in the past, Zindashti leads a free life in Iran. In December 2022, he was honored during a ceremony by Iran’s Education Ministry as one of the members of the Charity for School Constructions. He is a benefactor and CEO of Zindashti Star Charitable Institute, constructing shopping malls and schools, yet also a drug lord with links to regime insiders.

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