Iranian President Hassan Rouhani speaks during a cabinet meeting in Tehran on Wednesday. Photo courtesy of Iranian president's office/EPA-EFE
April 17 (UPI) -- Displaying a characteristically impeccable case of bad timing, Iran's Supreme Audit Court presented a devastating report to the Iranian parliament on Tuesday showing how $4.8 billion had gone missing from government funds in 2018, pointing to massive corruption by the ruling mullahs.
Coming at the precise moment the International Monetary Fund was considering the Iranian regime's request for a $5 billion aid package to help them through the coronavirus crisis, the revelation was less than helpful. The auditor's report showed how $31.4 billion had been allocated by the government for the importation of goods in 2018, while only $26.6 billion of goods had actually been accounted for, leaving a glaring $4.8 billion shortfall.
Adel Azar, head of the Supreme Audit Court, told the parliament that his report indicated a high level of corruption by government officials who had received funds at government currency rates more favorable than those available on the open market. He cited 63 cases of embezzlement by elite government officials who had received between $50 million and $100 million each to import goods, but noted that only 15 of these embezzlers had been reported to the prosecutor's office.
Iran's President Hassan Rouhani has claimed his country has no funds to help the people during the COVID-19 pandemic and has demanded emergency aid from the IMF, despite the fact that supreme leader Ali Khamenei has assets worth an estimated $200 billion in tax-exempt foundations that are not overseen by any government body.
Last week, Rouhani said the IMF would be guilty of discrimination if it chose to withhold money from Iran, which is a member of the IMF. But the IMF will no doubt be carefully considering Iran's request against the background of institutionalized corruption.
Jihad Azour, the IMF's director of the Middle East and Central Asia Department, has told the media, "We have received a request for assistance, and since we have had limited engagement with Iran in recent times, the process of obtaining the information we require to assess the request is taking time."
The regime has struggled to control the spread of the disease, although they repeatedly broadcast false reports. On Thursday, they claimed COVID-19 had infected 77,000 people and killed 4,800, although accurate daily reports from the vast network of People's Mojahdein Organization of Iran (PMOI/MEK) resistance units inside Iran showed the real figures were more than 800,000 infected and over 30,000 dead nationwide.
The true figures demonstrate that Iran is the world's worst affected country, despite assurances from Rouhani that it is safe for people to return to work and for schools to reopen. Many shops, factories and workshops have resumed operations, exacerbating the spread of the virus.
Rouhani has even boasted that "no patient has been refused access to hospital in any province or city across the country. There have been no cases of bed shortages or ICU beds if a patient required special attention... We know of not even a single case over the past three months of anyone not being admitted to hospital due to poverty.... Everyone [had been admitted] with their insurance and in the case of financial difficulties, patients have not been charged."
In direct contradiction, Iran's Deputy Health Minister Alireza Raissi told the Entekhab daily newspaper, "We cannot have a precise assessment of the actual figure [of the fatalities], and we cannot multiply our statistics by two to three, but definitely the cases that we have registered do not reflect the real statistics... The scope of those who have been infected is much larger. Claims that 800,000 people have been infected and the number of those who have died is several times the number we have announced are definitely accurate."
Tehran has exploited the epidemic to blame Washington and its "maximum pressure" policy, claiming that U.S. sanctions have restricted its ability to respond effectively to the disease, despite the fact that the sanctions specifically excluded medicinal and humanitarian supplies. But the ayatollah's long-standing policy of bragging, lying and concealing the truth has rebounded on them during the COVID-19 crisis.
What little trust tiny sectors of the population still had in the regime has evaporated, encouraging U.S. President Donald Trump to signal he was keen to block Iran's bid for the $5 billion IMF aid package. As the biggest contributor to the IMF, Trump is in a pivotal position to veto the loan. He has shown his displeasure with the World Health Organization by suspending massive U.S. contributions to its budget for the next 60 days. Presumably the IMF does not want to invite a similar fate.
The U.S .State Department and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo regard Iran as the world's biggest sponsor of terrorism, pointing to the regime's continued funding of Bashar al-Assad in Syria, the Houthis in Yemen, Hezbollah in Lebanon, Hamas in Gaza and the Shi'ia militias in Iraq. Pompeo remains opposed to the IMF handout, believing it would fail to go to the hospitals, nurses and doctors who require assistance. Nevertheless, the European Union, as a leading appeaser of the Iranian regime, has begun operating their Iran-EU payment mechanism, with France, Germany and the United Kingdom opening a trading arrangement with the mullahs in direct violation of U.S. sanctions.
The EU seems oblivious to the fact that while Iran's 80 million population are facing a spiraling daily death toll from the coronavirus, the regime and its terrorist Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps are sitting on a mammoth jihad war chest worth an estimated $300 billion. They prefer to keep this money to wage Holy War on their Middle East neighbors and to finance international terror rather than supporting their own people. The theocratic regime's oppression, corruption, humanitarian discord and sponsorship of terror should be enough to persuade the IMF on the future of any financial aid.
Struan Stevenson is the Coordinator of the Campaign for Iran Change. He was a member of the European Parliament representing Scotland (1999-2014), president of the Parliament's Delegation for Relations with Iraq (2009-14) and chairman of the Friends of a Free Iran Intergroup (2004-14). He is an international lecturer on the Middle East and president of the European Iraqi Freedom Association.