Contrary to Iran's claims, in response to fresh US sanctions on his assets, that Ali Khamenei has only modest wealth, the Islamic republic's supreme leader controls a business empire worth up to $200 billion, according to recent reports.
On June 24th, US President Donald Trump ordered "hard-hitting" financial sanctions on Khamenei, holding him "ultimately responsible" for Iran's destabilising activities.
The executive order imposes sanctions on the supreme leader’s office and targets persons appointed to certain official or other positions by the supreme leader and/or his office, the US Treasury said.
In a meeting with ministers broadcast live on TV the following day, Iranian president Hassan Rouhani denounced the sanctions, AFP reported.
"The leader's assets are a husseiniyah (place of worship) and a simple house," he said. "Our leaders are not like other countries' leaders who have billions in an account abroad so you can sanction it, seize it or block it."
In 2013, however, the Reuters news agency published an investigation that put the value of the property empire controlled by Khamenei at $90 billion.
And earlier this year, the US Embassy in Baghdad reported the supreme leader has amassed a fortune of $200 billion.
Millions in estimated wealth
US sanctions include Khamenei as he is commander-in-chief of the armed forces, Cairo University professor of international criminal law Wael al-Sharimi told Al-Mashareq.
"He is thus responsible for all the activities of the groups affiliated with the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) over the past years," he said, including their financing and deployment around the region.
"It is difficult to quantify the leader's wealth, which is estimated by experts to be between $100 billion and $200 billion, and it is difficult to ascertain the amount of money that is outside Iran," he said.
This wealth is "probably in investment projects and companies run by individuals affiliated with the Iranian regime", he added.
The sanctions imposed on Khamenei will now enable the freezing or prosecuting of companies affiliated with his business empire, wherever they operate in the world, al-Sharimi said.
"The supreme leader’s wealth obviously amounts to a very high figure, said researcher Sheyar Turko, who specialises in IRGC-backed groups.
As al-Wali al-Faqih (Guardian of the Jurist), Khamenei is in a position of enormous power in Iran, Turko told Al-Mashareq, noting that the doctrine of Wilayat al-Faqih calls for allegiance to the supreme leader.
This position allows Khamenei to control and direct religious, political, and military institutions, and lay claim to sources of funding, he told Al-Mashareq.
Revenue from various sources
Khamenei has used this authority to collect funds under various pretexts, Turko added, "such as the orphan fund, support of the resistance and others".
The collection and distribution of these funds is supervised by special committees affiliated with the office of Wilayat al-Faqih in the country in which they are collected, he said.
"Anyone who observes the IRGC’s actions in Syria, especially in the Deir Ezzor region, would understand how the religious institutions that are directly affiliated with Khamenei operate," said Syrian journalist Mohammad al-Abdullah.
In Deir Ezzor, homes and property have been confiscated by the IRGC and its affiliates on the pretext that their owners are not in Syria, he told Al-Mashareq.
Profits from reconstruction projects in Syria generated by businesses affiliated with the IRGC are meanwhile "directed to the supreme leader's office", he said.