EghtesadOnline: The Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps and other branches of Iran’s armed forces have been instructed to sell off business holdings and commercial assets “irrelevant” to their main function, the Iranian defense minister said in a newspaper interview.
Brigadier General Amir Hatami said the Leader of Islamic Revolution Ayatollah Seyyed Ali Khamenei had instructed all of Iran’s armed forces to either divest economic holdings on the country’s capital market or sell them to the private sector, Bloomberg reported.
“They will pursue this matter until these forces withdraw from irrelevant economic activities,” Hatami was quoted as saying in an interview with the Persian newspaper Iran.
Defense forces, especially the IRGC, have extensive economic holdings in Iran’s construction, energy, banking, insurance and telecommunications industries. IRGC, which has been subject to US sanctions for decades, controls one of Iran’s largest construction companies, the Khatam al Anbia Construction Headquarters, which employs tens of thousands of people and has been contracted to build some of the country’s biggest oil and gas projects for the government, Financial Tribune reported.
Back in July, in a meeting between President Hassan Rouhani and IRGC commanders, the two sides reached an agreement on the scope of Khatam al-Anbiya’s engagement in the country’s development projects. Khatam al-Anbiya, according to Chairman of Majlis Plan and Budget Commission Gholamreza Tajgardoun, “will from now on only take on projects that local contractors cannot afford, such as mega projects worth above 2 trillion rials (about $53 million)”.
Hatami said that according to Iran’s Constitution, the force must assist and support the government on various projects at its request and this could take the shape of economic activities.
“These tasks are of another nature and are in order to help various sectors,” Hatami said. “Depending on the requirements of the government, this work can continue or it may not.”
How any privatization of IRGC-owned companies would work remains to be seen, as the organization and its affiliated companies hold a sizable share of Iran’s economy.
The IRGC formed out of Iran’s 1979 Islamic Revolution as a force meant to protect its political system. It operated parallel to the country’s regular armed forces, growing in prominence and power during the 1980s Iran-Iraq War. In the aftermath of the war, authorities allowed IRGC to expand into private enterprise.
Today, the organization has stakes in a vast spectrum of enterprises in Iran. In September 2009, the Iranian government sold 51% of the shares of the Telecommunications Company of Iran to Mobin Trust Consortium (Etemad-e-Mobin), a group affiliated with IRGC, for the sum of $7.8 billion. This was the largest transaction on Tehran Stock Exchange in history.
IRGC also exerts influence over the Islamic Revolution Mostazafan Foundation, a wealthy, non-governmental foundation with 11 holdings, 160 affiliated companies and 40,000 employees, acceding to its chairman Mohammad Saeedikia, who puts the share of the foundation’s earnings from Iran’s GDP at around 1%.
Last year, Saeedikia announced that the foundation would pull out of the hospitality sector and divest its assets, as decreed by the Leader of Islamic Revolution Ayatollah Seyyed Ali Khamenei.
“The foundation owns more than 20 hotels and is planning to sell them through the stock exchange market,” he said back in September.