So far, Iran’s campaign against corruption has always been understood as a platform for the marginalisation of political opponents. Court cases and prison sentences against President Hassan Rohani’s brother, Hossein Fereidoun, or close confidantes of former president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad serve as examples.
The absence of significant verdicts against hard-line politicians and Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) commanders has been taken as proof of judicial bias in favour of certain political networks.
This perception changed when on 17 March a military court in Tehran announced harsh sentences against former high-level IRGC commanders, notably Issa Sharifi, who was the first deputy of Mohammad Baqer Qalibaf, former mayor of Tehran and current Majles speaker.
Sharifi and other former high-level IRGC commanders — namely Mahmoud Seif (former board member of the IRGC cooperative Bonyad Sepah) and Massoud Mehrdadi (former deputy CEO of Bonyad Sepah and a former chair of the Telecommunications Company of Iran — have now received jail sentences for corruption.
The case involves Yas Holding, a conglomerate of companies owned by the IRGC. Like many other conglomerates, Yas was involved in numerous industries, but it essentially misappropriated the resources of the municipality of Tehran and state institutions such as Islamic Republic of Iran Broadcasting for the benefit of various individual IRGC commanders and Bonyad Sepah.
The sentencing of Sharifi to 20 years in prison is a milestone in the campaign against corruption. Some may dismiss it as a political process against Qalibaf, who has ambitions to run for president, but it could also be seen as a genuine move to dissuade other state officials and military commanders from engaging in corrupt schemes.