Iran International has obtained information about links between Iran's former security chief Ali Shamkhani and a top drug lord, Naji Sharifi-Zindashti.
According to an Iran International source, Shamkhani was receiving about $3.5 million in bribes per year from Zindashti, in addition to the narcotics that the drug baron personally provided for the secretary of Islamic Republic’s Supreme National Security Council.
Shamkhani’s dealings with Zindashti were among the reasons why a man representing Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei in the security council was pushed out of his position in May.
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, the source said.
The Club is comprised of 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.
Shamkhani, who was a senior member of the "Friends’ Club” was forced out of office, but the drug distribution network is still operating, reportedly trafficking more than 20 percent of narcotics distributed across Iran and about 35 percent of the drugs pushed in the capital Tehran.
Shamkhani's résumé is so full of controversies that it is difficult to pinpoint a single reason for his removal after about a decade at the post.
In recent months there were rumors about Shamkhani stepping aside as hardliners blamed him for failure to suppress protests. In video-taped remarks released on the internet in November, former lawmaker Hamid Rasaei, a hardliner cleric, accused him of failing to quash protests.
The conjecture was further confirmed after the hacktivist group ‘Uprising till Overthrow -- affiliated with the Albania-based opposition Mojahedin-e-Khalq (MEK) group – hacked into 120 servers at the presidential office, getting access to internal communications, minutes of meetings, President Ebrahims Raisi’s online conference platforms and about 1,300 computers inside the office.
Among the released documents, there is correspondence between the president’s office and the office of Shamkhani, confirming rumors that he stepped down over conflicts with the Raisi administration.
In the letter addressed to Shamkhani, the chief of staff of the president, Gholam-Hossein Esmaili, criticized the security chief for a lack of insight into the wave of protests that engulfed Iran following the death in custody of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini. With a condescending tone, Esmaili rebuked Shamkhani’s office for “merely describing and analyzing the events,” asking him to provide “meta-analyses and predictions” about the developments regarding the protests.
Shamkhani also had a fair share of scandals, like most regime insiders, pertaining to his abuse of power for financial gain and nepotism, including reports about his sons -- Hassan and Hossein -- owning dozens of businesses, such as large shipping companies.
There are also reports about the extravagant lifestyle of his family members in Iran and abroad. Following “rumors” that even his toddler grandson has hundreds of thousands of dollars in just one bank account as well as several properties, authorities announced that the bank account was blocked. Iran International’s investigative journalist Mojtaba Pourmohsen has published several exposés about the corruption of kith and kin, including his nephews Mo’ud and Naji Shamkhani.
Several pundits, such as commentator Morteza Kazemian, are also of the opinion that Shamkhani’s removal may be linked to the case of British-Iranian national Alireza Akbari, a former Iranian deputy defense minister who was executed over charges of spying for Britain. Akbari was a close ally of Shamkhani, and his execution was also interpreted as a move aimed at weakening Shamkhani’s position in the regime.