Thursday, September 3, 2009

The Revolutionary Guards make a grab for Iran's telecom

The Revolutionary Guards Corps is planning to purchase the Telecommunications Company of Iran (TCI or Sherkat Mokhaberat Iran).

The public notice for the stock offer was decided last year by the Iranian Privatization Organization. The sale of 50% + 1 stock, scheduled for Wednesday September 9, would represent the largest transaction in the Tehran stock exchange's 40-year history. The purchaser would become the controlling shareholder of the company and its 32 subsidiaries.

The market capitalization at the time of the sale will likely be $7-$8 billion, though experts say the company's real value, considering its large mobile phone operations, assets, and the fact that it is a monopoly, is at least double that. Other potential buyers are the Basij social affairs fund and Astan Ghods Razavi, which controls Imam Reza's shrine in Mashhad and has become a massive tentacular conglomerate, which includes everything from a pizza parlor chain to a carpet company.

"The IRGC has been involved in business activities through various departments like the Gharargah Khatam ol-Anbia for a long time," Ali Dini Torkamani, economist and professor in California, told Radio Farda. Gharargah Sazandegi Khatam ol-Anbia (Khatam ol-Anbia Construction Base) is the main contracting arm of the IRGC and employs some 25,000 officers, engineers, and civilian contractors according to IRGC General Sattar Vafai. Its various businesses include construction and oil extraction. The Iranian government has awarded the development of phases 15 and 16 of the vast South Pars gas fields to Gharargah Sazandegi Khatam ol-Anbia, or Ghorb for short. It is worth noting that Ghorb is linked to Iran's nuclear activities and is under sanctions by the EU and the US.

But beyond economic considerations, the IRGC's intention to buy TCI could also be motivated by security and intelligence, said Dini Torkamani.

Dini Torkamani also questioned a privatization drive that sells state assets to other state bodies rather than to the private sector.

(Most of the information in this piece came from Radio Farda's Alireza Ahmadi, Sarmayeh newspaper, and the RAND Corporation's 2009 report 'The Rise of the Pasdaran'.)