Iranwire – At a press conference on March 17 this year, judiciary spokesman Gholamhossein Esmaeili announced that a former Revolutionary Guards member, Mahmoud Saif, had been sentenced to 30 years in prison, fines and refund of his education costs.
The conviction was linked to a spiralling investigation into the Tehran-based Yas Economic Development Group, in the course of which a number of major figures – from ex-deputy mayor Issa Sharifi to Guards commander Massoud Mehrdadi – have been implicated and in some cases charged.
For more than a decade, Mahmoud Saif has been understood to work for a covert counterfeiting network that smuggled weapons back to the Islamic Republic. His ex-wife, Shahrzad Mirgholikhan, was jailed for five years in the US in 2007 for helping him buy and send 3,000 night-vision cameras back to Iran.
Mirgholikan was originally arrested and in Austria together with her husband, but later turned whistleblower in the US. After her release she went to work as head of internal relations, and later a “special inspector”, for Islamic Republic of Iran Broadcasting, but then left Iran in 2016 on being charged with espionage by the Guards.
Now based in Oman, Mirgholikan’s autobiography is a revelatory read. She introduces her husband, Mahmoud Saif, as an influential member of the IRGC who travelled around the world on procurement missions under pseudonyms, and himself the owner of a vast fortune. Now, his associates claim, he is conducting his business apace from inside prison.
It was in the summer of 2017 that rumors began to circulate about the arrest of a certain IRGC commander, Mohsen Sajadnia.
Later, it was discovered that Sajadnia was one of Mahmoud Saif’s many pseudonyms. It was in July 2019 that he finally found his way onto the public ward of Evin Prison. Later, in August, he was transferred to Ward 4, which at that time hosted a number of famous faces charged with corruption and financial crimes.
Just a few days later, he was placed in Room 9: an unusually spacious cell with just seven occupants out of a capacity of 25. With its pink and purple curtains and bedspreads, it stood out from the rest of Evin, and as a former political prisoner and cellmate of Saif recalls, this room was for “special people”.
The room’s other occupants at the time included the judiciary-appointed lawyer for Ward 4, his deputy and the housekeeper, as well as Alireza Zibahalat Monfared – a former Dominican diplomat and right-hand man of business tycoon Babak Zanjani, who was arrested ahead of a massive US$1.3bn fraud case in 2017 – and Mohammad-Reza Jahanbani, the owner of tens of Iranian conglomerates and prime suspect in the Bank Sarmayeh corruption scandal.
“Everyone else in the room moved from time to time,” Saif’s former cellmate said. “Saif, or Sajadnia, was the only permanent resident.
“From the first day he came to the ward, everyone, from the head of the prison to the ward lawyer, called him Sardar [commander]. He didn’t obey any of the rules: visiting hours, movement restrictions, lights-out… Everything he wanted was available to him immediately, from TV serial CDs to clothes and food. He spent a lot of money in prison and intimidated anyone he wanted, either with his power, or with his money.”
In many Iranian corruption cases, the suspects are found to have either unduly confiscated property, or disposed of it illegally. Mahmoud Saif was one of the few to be sentenced to both fines and reimbursement of funds. But neither seemed to have inconvenienced him, and he had plenty of disposable income at his fingertips behind bars.
A Burgeoning Cigarette Empire
Another fellow inmate of Mahmoud Saif remembers the cigarette situation in Evin at the time. “The prison currency is cigarettes, since there’s no cash. The prison store offered three types: Bahman, Kent and Winston. Saif was the only person who carried a different brand, the Royal Cigarette; we don’t know where it came from. But he told us several times that the brand belonged to him.”
An online search for Royal Cigarettes leads in turn to a company called Pishro Tech Parsian, which advertises itself as the owner of the Royal Cigarette brand. It claims to have been registered in 2013 and to have a factory located in the Malayer 2 Industrial Town in Hamedan province. The company headquarters, meanwhile, is ostensibly in Tehran’s Farmaniyeh Avenue.
The firm’s stated directors include Mr. Alireza Zohrehvand as chairman, on behalf of the Sadaf Investment Company, deputy chairman Mr. Mohsen Sajadinia on behalf of the Novin Tejarat Mobin Arka Company, and a third member, Majid Saif, who is one of Mahmoud Saif’s brothers.
Fall of the Counterfeit King – and a Family Reshuffle
IranWire’s own well-placed sources have confirmed that Mohsen Sajadinia is indeed a pseudonym that has long been used by Mahmoud Saif. He operated under this identity after his arrest in Austria, also running the Mobin Diamond Trading Company: a subsidiary of the IRGC’s Cooperative Foundation.
According to an announcement by the US Treasury in 2017, this firm provided the necessary equipment and supplies for counterfeiting European banknotes. It was also involved in setting up arms deals. More recently, the Mobin Diamond Trading Company was used to help set up counterfeiting networks in support of the Houthis in Yemen.
Then in June 2017, Mahmoud Saif was arrested in Iran. Changes were abruptly made to the company structure, with “Mohsen Sajadnia” removed from the board.
Meanwhile, two more of his brothers, Ahmad Saif and Mohammad Amin Saif, replaced him as chairman and board member of another shadowy investment firm, the Arka Economic Development Group, together with his father Amanullah Saif. His son-in-law Hossein Shayegan was made managing director, while his sister then joined the board in February 2019.
The case against Mahmoud Saif caused a stir in the media and became a point of contention between various political factions in Iran. His cigarette company also changed its board members so that no further mention of the Saif family appeared in the records.
Today, a man named Hossein Shayegan remains on the board of directors for the cigarette company, Pishro Tech Parsian. He retains an active connection to a firm called the Naratek Electronic Banking Systems Company, and shares another company, the Namasazeh Arka Company, with a third man – Seyed Mohammad Hossein Mousavi – who is also director of a firm called Parto Nasim Shomal. Members of the Saif family are present on the boards of Naratek and Parto Nasim Shomal, as well as some 20 other firms registered in Iran.
Evidently, Saif and his family are good at setting up commercial entities – so much so that in 2013 Mahmoud Saif published a book entitled Wealth-Creating Strategies in Holding Companies, through Iran’s Termeh publishing house. Of course, the name that appears on the cover is Mohsen Sajadnia.
Fixing Procurement for Tehran Construction Work
Pishro Tech Parsian has other pursuits aside from manufacturing obscure cigarettes. One of its more important, large-scale activities is providing stone for Iranian construction projects.
The company’s website claims that the stone it quarries is of the highest quality in Iran and meets export standards all over the world. IranWire’s sources are clear that the firm, which belongs to the Saif family cartel, was one of the main suppliers of stone for construction and urban development projects by Tehran Municipality during the Mohammad Baqer Ghalibaf era, through the now-disgraced Yas Economic Investment Group.
Tehran City Council’s investigation report on Tehran Municipality’s contracts with the IRGC Cooperative Foundation and Yas found that Mohsen Sajadinia, CEO of the Mobin Diamond Trading Group, had been introduced to Tehran bureaucrats via the IRGC and became the broker for an agreement known as Finance 1, and another called Finance 2 at the end of 2015.
These contracts in turn allowed Saif/Sajadnia to give his family’s holding company a monopoly on the stone used in Tehran Municipality’s construction projects, together with those of the IRGC. In other words, they wrote their own contracts, and made a fortune.
Can Hossein Taeb Declare Saif’s Assets?
According to the evidence, and the testimonies of Mahmoud Saif’s inmates, not only did he and his family effectively not lose out on any business due to his being arrested, but he has carried on with money-making schemes behind bars.
Many prisoners involved in economic corruption cases have done the same. Saif’s inmates, his ex-wife and others are categorical about the free-wheeling businessman’s near-legendary wealth while Reza Golpour, a journalist who was close to the IRGC for years but later jailed on spying charges, claimed in an audio file that he had been arrested and prosecuted for his revelations about Mahmoud Saif’s corruption.
He said in the audio file that about a month before his arrest on the orders of Hossein Taeb, the head of the IRGC’s intelligence service, he “wrote a detailed letter to the then-mayor of Tehran, which was sent through the municipal security department, explaining some of the corruption of members of the Yas Economic Group, including Mahmoud Saif, for example.
“Can Mr. Hossein Ta’eb personally reveal the list of movable and immovable property of this person to the nation?”