(Reuters) - Iran’s parliament has passed a resolution to tax organizations overseen by Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and the armed forces, an unusual move by the legislature into areas dominated by the most powerful figures in the country.
Iran’s economy has been severely damaged by plunging oil prices, sanctions imposed over its nuclear activity and a weak currency, so parliamentarians may view the institutions as untapped sources of badly needed revenue for the government.
The parliamentary resolution was approved last week and there are still several steps before it would become law. But the vote itself is remarkable, coming from a hardline conservative-dominated assembly that rarely does anything that could be seen as impinging on the powers of the supreme leader.
Among the organizations that could get taxed is “Setad Ejraiye Farmane Hazrate Emam”, or the Headquarters for Executing the Order of the Imam, a body that reports directly to Khamenei which initially built its financial empire through systematic property confiscations.
Setad was the focus of a three-part investigative series by Reuters that examined the real estate holdings and network of companies, ranging from ostrich farms to petrochemicals, controlled by the organization.
The series, published in November 2013, estimated the value of Setad’s companies and properties then at about $95 billion. (Assets of the Ayatollah: here)
Other organizations that could face taxation are “economic foundations of the armed forces,” according to the Iranian Students’ News Agency. The Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), the most powerful military force in the country, oversees a huge network of companies worth billions of dollars.
Any money collected as tax from these organizations would be given to the Ministry of Education, according to local media reports on the parliamentary session.
A spokesman for Setad did not respond to a request for comment.
A Setad representative said, after the parliamentary debate was made public, that the organization already paid tax.
“We don’t have any activities in Setad which we don’t pay taxes for like the private sector,” Seyed Mostafa Seyed Hashemi, Setad’s deputy for planning and economic development, was quoted as saying by the Fars News agency.
“In terms of taxation, there is no difference between us and a private institution.”
The parliamentary debate came one week after Ali Mottahari, a conservative but outspoken parliamentarian, called Setad an “economic cartel”.
In a speech at a university in the city of Mashhad, he also called on the Assembly of Experts, a governmental body which chooses the supreme leader, to fully exercise its powers and investigate organizations overseen by Khamenei.
“The only work of the Assembly of Experts should not be to elect the Leader,” Mottahari said, according to the Saham News site. “God willing, the leader of the revolution will be alive for many years. But they need to do their own work, to enquire and probe and inspect.”
Editing by Simon Robinson and Robin Pomeroy