Kazem Sedighi (left) during Tehran’s Friday prayer on the last Friday of the Iranian year on March 15, 2024

Holy Land Grab! Khamenei’s Man Embroiled In Corruption

Sunday, 03/17/2024

A case of a large land grab by Tehran’s interim Friday prayer Imam, Kazem Sedighi, has sparked uproar in Iran, adding to the growing list of corruption scandals implicating regime insiders.

Sedighi, a cleric trusted by Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei, found himself embroiled in controversy following the publication of documents in recent days revealing that he and his sons took over a 4,200-square-meter (45,200 sq feet) garden at a prime location in northern Tehran through a family company.

The lot, estimated to be worth approximately $20 million, is adjacent to a seminary that Sedighi founded about 20 years ago and has presided over ever since. The land was originally owned by the seminary and was transferred to the family company owned and led by Sedighi and his two sons. Other people from Sedighi’s close circle, including his daughter-in-law Rezvaneh Ghavam and the chief of his security detail Fazlollah Beigverdi, hold positions in the company, established in June 2023.

The documents were leaked by Yashar Soltani, a well-known whistle blower who has exposed numerous high-ranking officials of the Iranian government, ranging from Revolutionary Guard generals such as the slain Quds Force commander Qasem Soleimani, to lawmakers such as parliament speaker Mohammad Bagher Ghalibaf.

An aerial photo of the land (circled in red) and Sedighi’s seminary (in orange)

Sedighi has asserted that he was unaware of the land's title transfer, reopening an old wound that many Iranians know all too well from countless similar cases. The hardline cleric stated on Sunday that his signature was forged, sparking outrage online. People argue that a forged signature is used to obtain something from someone without their consent or awareness, rather than providing it to them.

Journalist Behnam Gholipour has dug up a series of Sedighi’s remarkable statements in the past about the metaphysical realm, pointing out that the cleric tells anecdotes beyond the physical world, but claims ignorance about a piece of land owned by him. Sedighi has famously claimed that Khamenei has contact with a figure in Shiite Islam believed to be in occultation since 941 CE. Sedighi also claimed that his late teacher, Ayatollah Mohammad-Taqi Mesbah Yazdi, momentarily came back to life in the morgue.

Another argument circulating online is that even if he had no prior knowledge of the transaction that granted him the land, now he does. People question why he has not taken steps to return the land.

Iran's recent history is marked by myriads of corruption cases implicating a broad spectrum of the regime's top brass and dignitaries, who wield significant influence over the country's laws and regulatory bodies with impunity.

Sedighi is only the latest addition to the extensive roster of Khamenei confidants, who have acquired land, misappropriated substantial sums, and embezzled billions of dollars over the past decades, shielded by Khamenei's unwavering protection.

Last year, it was revealed that Ayatollah Ahmad Alamolhoda -- the firebrand Friday prayer Imam of Mashhad and the father-in-law of President Ebrahim Raisi, who controls one of Iran's biggest religious endowments -- was pocketing a monthly cut of approximately $200,000 for at least seven years.

Kazem Sedighi leading Tehran’s Friday prayer on the last Friday of the Iranian year on March 15, 2024

Another high-profile case was Ayatollah Kazem Nourmofidi, the representative of Khamenei in the northern Golestan province, whose control over the province’s forest exploitation has always been known among locals. He owns the largest wood businesses in the region and his offspring are involved in at least 20 wood companies. Nourmofidi, who is the brother-in-law of another great ayatollah Mohammad Fazel Lankrani, is pocketing hundreds of thousands of dollars per month for wood smuggling from the lush forests of northern Iran. Another Friday imam who is taking advantage of his relationship with Khamenei is Zeinolabedin Ghorbani, the former representative in Gilan province. He started a shopping mall project in the city and pre-sold the units but never delivered them. People who paid found no remedy in courts controlled by clerics. These were only a few cases revealed in 2023.

The Friday Prayer Imams, Khamenei's regional representatives pushing the regime's ideology and rhetoric, are infamous for enjoying immunity from the law. There are more than 900 Friday Prayer Imams across Iran, as well as 290 members of the parliament, 31 provincial governors, thousands of judges and thousands of senior IRGC members.

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