Building an Empire on Property Seizures

Building an Empire on Property Seizures

by Dan Mueller

A new Reuters investigation details a key to Iran’s supreme leader’s power: a little-known organization created to help the poor that morphed into a business juggernaut worth tens of billions of dollars. “Setad Ejraiye Farmane Hazrate Emam” – Headquarters for Executing the Order of the Imam, or Setad – has become one of the most powerful organizations in Iran, though many Iranians, and the wider world, know very little about it. How Setad came into its assets – $95 billion according to Reuters calculations – mirrors how the deposed monarchy obtained much of its fortune: by confiscating real estate.

A six-month Reuters investigation has found that Setad built its empire on the systematic seizure of thousands of properties belonging to ordinary Iranians: members of religious minorities as well as Shi’ite Muslims, business people and Iranians living abroad. Setad has amassed a giant portfolio of real estate by claiming in Iranian courts, sometimes falsely, that the properties are abandoned. The organization now holds a court-ordered monopoly on taking property in the name of the Supreme Leader, and regularly sells the seized properties at auction or seeks to extract payments from the original owners.

Washington has acknowledged Setad’s importance. The Iranian president’s office and the foreign ministry didn’t respond to requests for comment.

The first part of this investigation can be accessed here in its entirety. Parts two and three will follow on Tuesday, November 12 and Wednesday, November 13.

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