Efforts to tackle corruption have intensified in Iran and, in terms of number of cases and status of targeted individuals, the current campaign is unprecedented.
A growing number of former government officials are either in prison or being prosecuted for corruption. Corruption allegations against former or current officials can be heard from all corners and even include accusations against the former head of the judiciary and current chair of the Expediency Council, Ayatollah Sadegh Larijani.
In the past few months many individuals — including tens of government officials; member of families in the regime’s inner circle; and heads of state-affiliated organisations and public banks and companies — have been sentenced to jail on charges related to financial corruption. This has increased public disillusionment in the Islamic Republic as a whole. Various theories attempt to explain why this campaign has gained steam at this time:
- The regime as a whole has decided to address corruption in order to improve overall governance in order to withstand the negative financial impact of US sanctions.
- The campaign is a political tool to discredit and cast aside some influential families before the Majles election in February 2020, the 2021 presidential election, and the selection Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei’s successor.
- The new momentum is the work of new judiciary head Ebrahim Raisi, who is trying to increase his own popularity in order to position himself as a contender for Supreme Leader.
Considering Iran’s complex power structure, it is quite possible that all these factors play a role in the current momentum. Whatever the motives, the process is highlighting the existence of high-level corruption and compelling authorities to think of solutions.
Another consequence of the campaign has been to facilitate greater space for debate among intellectuals and the media about corruption and how to fight it.
Interestingly, some leading intellectuals argue that the main platform for corruption is the misguided approach to qualifying state officials. They argue that the incompetence of officials and lack of proper governance structures are the highest form of corruption and that the highest levels of authority — i.e. the Supreme Leader and the president — should be responsible.
It remains to be seen where this campaign will lead, but certainly greater awareness about corruption should help to deter it on all levels.