FIRST LOOK, DEEP DIVE – REUTERS INVESTIGATES: Assets of the Ayatollah – The economic empire behind Iran’s supreme leader: Land Grab — first of a three part series – Khamenei controls massive financial empire built on property seizures: Setad has become one of the most powerful organizations in Iran, though many Iranians, and the wider world, know very little about it. In the past six years, it has morphed into a business juggernaut that now holds stakes in nearly every sector of Iranian industry, including finance, oil, telecommunications, the production of birth-control pills and even ostrich farming. The organization’s total worth is difficult to pinpoint because of the secrecy of its accounts. But Setad’s holdings of real estate, corporate stakes and other assets total about $95 billion, Reuters has calculated. That estimate is based on an analysis of statements by Setad officials, data from the Tehran Stock Exchange and company websites, and information from the U.S. Treasury Department.
–Just one person controls that economic empire – Khamenei. As Iran’s top cleric, he has the final say on all governmental matters. His purview includes his nation’s controversial nuclear program, which was the subject of intense negotiations between Iranian and international diplomats in Geneva that ended Sunday without an agreement. It is Khamenei who will set Iran’s course in the nuclear talks and other recent efforts by the new president, Hassan Rouhani, to improve relations with Washington. The supreme leader’s acolytes praise his spartan lifestyle, and point to his modest wardrobe and a threadbare carpet in his Tehran home. Reuters found no evidence that Khamenei is tapping Setad to enrich himself. But Setad has empowered him. Through Setad, Khamenei has at his disposal financial resources whose value rivals the holdings of the shah, the Western-backed monarch who was overthrown in 1979.
–How Setad came into those assets also mirrors how the deposed monarchy obtained much of its fortune – by confiscating real estate. A six-month Reuters investigation has found that Setad built its empire on the systematic seizure of thousands of properties belonging to ordinary Iranians: members of religious minorities like Vahdat-e-Hagh, who is Baha’i, as well as Shi’ite Muslims, business people and Iranians living abroad. Setad has amassed a giant portfolio of real estate by claiming in Iranian courts, sometimes falsely, that the properties are abandoned. The organization now holds a court-ordered monopoly on taking property in the name of the supreme leader, and regularly sells the seized properties at auction or seeks to extract payments from the original owners. The supreme leader also oversaw the creation of a body of legal rulings and executive orders that enabled and safeguarded Setad’s asset acquisitions. “No supervisory organization can question its property,” said Naghi Mahmoudi, an Iranian lawyer who left Iran in 2010 and now lives in Germany. Khamenei’s grip on Iran’s politics and its military forces has been apparent for years. The investigation into Setad shows that there is a third dimension to his power: economic might. The revenue stream generated by Setad helps explain why Khamenei has not only held on for 24 years but also in some ways has more control than even his revered predecessor. Setad gives him the financial means to operate independently of parliament and the national budget, insulating him from Iran’s messy factional infighting.” [Reuters]
Lobbying Battle – BuzzFeed: White House Applies Presidential Pressure On Iran Skeptics — “The president and vice president are privately urging key Senate Democrats and Republicans to hold off on moving a new round of sanctions against Iran, arguing it could undermine ongoing negotiations with the Islamic Republic. In recent days, the president has called leading supporters of new sanctions legislation, including Illinois Senator Mark Kirk, a Republican. Democratic leaders in Congress are also under “an extraordinary amount of pressure” to back the White House on putting off sanctions, one congressional aide said, and President Obama and other senior administration officials have directly called some to make the administration’s case… Democrats targeted include Sen. Chuck Schumer, who a Senate aide confirmed had spoken with Vice President Biden, White House Chief of Staff Denis McDonough, and a number of cabinet officials.
–But the White House still faces an uphill battle in a Congress where nearly all support continuing sanctions on Iran and the most pro-sanctions players have not given an inch. Two of the most vociferous supporters of sanctions, Sens. Lindsey Graham and Bob Menendez, said on the Sunday shows after the talks in Geneva failed that it was imperative to push new sanctions through. Leading Jewish groups with influence on the Hill are also starting to grow impatient; the Anti-Defamation League on Monday reversed its promise to hold off on campaigning for new sanctions for 30 days during negotiations. The White House push to delay sanctions could also be at least partly theater, showing the Iranians that they are trying to push back the timeline on the sanctions while also keeping the threat of them hanging in the air as leverage during the negotiations. The White House wants a “markedly, heavily bipartisanly pro-Israel Congress standing with a hammer behind them allowing them to say look at what is coming down the pike if you don’t accede,” the aide said. “At the same time they’re afraid of a timetable that will upend it altogether and push Iran away.” [BuzzFeed]
WSJ – What Does Israel Want When It Comes to Iran? “Israeli leader Benjamin Netanyahu continues to blast the deal Western powers are forging with Iran over its nuclear activities. So what exactly does Israel want? WSJ’s Josh Mitnick reports” [WSJ]
Dennis Ross in the New Republic on the History of the Iran Nuclear Deal and How to Fix It: “As Secretary of State John Kerry and other ministers arrived in Geneva this past weekend, expectations rose that a limited agreement might be reached on the Iranian nuclear program. It was not, but the next meeting is already set for November 20, and while debate is likely to become more intense as to whether a limited agreement makes sense at this time, there is value in taking a step back and asking what might be achieved at this point and what could make it acceptable…” [New Republic]
Gov. Christie, “Not an Expert on Iran,” Offers No Opinion On Iran: “Pressed by both ABC’s George Stephanopoulos and CBS’s Norah O’Donnell to offer some opinion, no matter how ill-informed, on the delicate foreign policy issue having absolutely nothing to do with his current job, Christie explained: “I’m a Governor of New Jersey, and I think there are a lot of people you could ask and probably will have on the program who are significantly better briefed on this than I am. And I think when guys like me start to shoot off on opinions about this kind of stuff, it’s really ill-advised. So I’ll leave it to Secretary Kerry and the folks that are in charge of this to make decisions about where we go.” [MediaBistro]
Rafi Eitan says US told Israel that Pollard would only serve 10 years: “Former cabinet minister Rafi Eitan, who was the intelligence officer who operated Israeli agent Jonathan Pollard in the mid-1980s, revealed Monday that he incriminated him because he was told Pollard would serve no more than 10 years in prison. Speaking to Army Radio to mark Monday’s anniversary according to the Hebrew calendar of Pollard’s arrest in 1985, Eitan referred to secret understandings reached between the Israeli and US governments.” [JPost]
American Scion of German Jewish Family to File Nazi Art Claim: “David Toren, a relative of a late German collector hopes to file claims on a recently unearthed collection in Munich.” [WSJ]
Genesis Prize created to give young people Jewish role models, says founder: “The Genesis Prize itself was quickly given the nickname “The Jewish Nobel,” and the committee who chose Bloomberg received a bit of derision for such a wealthy and somewhat controversial first choice for a laureate. But for Stan Polovets, cofounder and CEO of the Genesis Philanthropy Group, the prize is less similar to the Nobel or the Pulitzer, and more analogous to a project like Taglit- Birthright. Nor is it about the money. In fact, Polovets said, one of the unofficial criteria for the prize selection was whether the laureate would do something philanthropic with the money. Instead the prize is about trying to engage the younger generations to be proud of their Jewish identity.” [JPost]
Pew Study – Glass Half Full? – Data Shows Children of Intermarriage Still Identify as Jews: And half of Millennials who identify as Jews come from mixed families—a story of retention, not assimilation. [TabletMag]
Is there a ‘Paradigm shift’ in Diaspora’s relationship with Israel? “If relationship between U.S. and Israel Jews ‘was once more like a big brother-little brother sort of thing,’ Alisa Doctoroff says, ‘today it’s more like a conversation between two adults.’ [Haaretz]
Former Deputy FM Ayalon takes post as visiting prof. at Yeshiva University: “Former deputy foreign minister Danny Ayalon will take the post of visiting professor of Foreign Policy Studies at Yeshiva University for the spring 2014 semester, the school announced Monday.” [JPost]
Forbes Israel LIst of Wealthiest Jews in the World: (in hebrew) [Forbes]
Ronald Lauder to stop funding Channel 10: “Ron Lauder, Channel 10’s main shareholder, has announced that he will stop injecting capital into the television station in 2014 if it is not allowed to apply for a license. This is because of disagreements between Lauder and Channel 10’s controlling shareholder Yosef Maiman on one hand and Arnon Milchan on the other. They are concerned that Milchan, a shareholder in the company, will not sign the application for a license.” [Globes]
Paul Singer’s Gramercy Rebuff Blunts Bond Deal Talk: Argentina Credit – Billionaire hedge fund manager Paul Singer has dismissed attempts by Argentine bondholders to orchestrate a deal that would end his legal claims against the country, calling the initiative pointless. [Bloomberg]
Billionaire Frost’s Opko capitalizes on drug firm’s IPO: “Miami Beach billionaire Dr. Phillip Frost once again demonstrated his business acumen as he guided his Opko Health to a big return on a drug company investment.” [South Florida Business Journal]
Jewish Pritzker Billionaire Brothers Turn From Family Feuding to Deals: “The legal battle broke up the family empire and distributed at least $1.35 billion to each of 11 cousins. Now, the brothers say they are putting the discord behind them, Bloomberg Markets magazine will report in its December Billionaires Issue. They are primed to talk about investing their inheritance in companies that include a distributor of janitorial products and a maker of circumcision devices — much like the grab bag their father and uncles assembled.” [BusinessWeek]
KKR Agrees to Buy Landscaper Brickman for $1.6 Billion: “Henry Kravis and George Roberts, agreed to buy landscape-maintenance company Brickman Group Ltd. from Leonard Green & Partners LP for $1.6 billion.” [Bloomberg]
Real Estate RoundUp
Mort Zuckerman’s Boston Properties challanged to fill Midtown spec tower: “Boston Properties has struggled to lease up its office tower at 250 West 55th Street in the Columbus Circle area, with the real estate investment trust needing to fill at least another 250,000 square feet before the building begins to turn a profit.” [TheRealDeal]
Proposed 30-story west side tower leapfrogs other major Baltimore projects: “David S. Brown Enterprises Ltd.’s planned 30-story west side office tower is likely to be the first skyscraper to rise in the city since the Legg Mason and Four Seasons towers at Harbor East.” [BizJournals]
Dessert – AP Wire – NY Knish Factory Fire Leads to Nationwide Shortage: “A fire at a factory billed as the world’s biggest maker of knishes has created nationwide shock and oy for those who can’t seem to find the Jewish treats anywhere. Kvetching has been going on at delis, diners, food carts and groceries since the six-week-long shortage began, but lovers of the square fried doughy pillows of pureed potatoes may not have to go without much longer. The factory promises an end to the knish crunch by Thanksgiving, which coincides with the start of Hanukkah. “Our customers … are calling us saying they are literally searching supermarkets and stores and they’re all asking when we’ll be back,” Stacey Ziskin Gabay, one of the owners of the 92-year-old Gabila’s Knishes, which sells about 15 million knishes a year.” [ABC News]
Thats all folks, have a great Tuesday!
**Have a tip, suggestion, or even an op-ed? We’d love to hear from you. Email [email protected]**