By Kayhan Life Staff
The Iranian authorities have arrested Mehrshad Soheili, a 17-year-old suspected of running a fraudulent scheme, according to Ainollah Niazifar, the head of the Judiciary for Dasht Abbas and Mousian, in the western province of Ilam.
“Mehrdad Soheili was arrested yesterday morning at a request from the Qom Province’s Judiciary and with the cooperation of Imam Mahdi Unknown Soldier Unit [agents from the Ministry of Intelligence],” Mr. Niazifar said. “He is currently in prison.”
The Judiciary for Dasht Abbas and Mousian acted on the behest of the Qom Judiciary and has no information about the case’s specifics, Mr. Niazifar explained.
Authorities reportedly blocked Soheili’s Instagram account and website after his arrest.
Soheili allegedly used fake credentials and titles to “conduct activities” in economically disadvantaged neighborhoods, collecting large sums of money from actual donors. He allegedly laundered the money and bought properties in his relatives’ names.
Soheili was linked to many institutions and organizations in Iran. He has been photographed with senior state officials and prominent political figures. Soheili claimed to provide public service as a member of the “jihadi groups.”
Mehrshad Soheili was born in 2004 in Mousian. He is reportedly the founder and the commander of the “Imam Mahdi Cultural Institution.”
Soheili came to the media’s attention following his meetings with prominent religious figures in 2019. In the same year, Soheili published his biography titled “A Star from the West.” He was only 15 years old at the time. Several prominent Iranians, including Ayatollah Mesbah Yazdi, a former member of the Assembly of Experts, attended the launch of Soheili’s book in the holy city of Qom. The conservative media even identified him as the “youngest commander” and the “jihadi teenager.”
A report in the Tehran-based Farhikhtegan daily newspaper on Jan.12 said that Soheili had created “fake” jihadi headquarters and letterheads and set up a website to “take advantage of [people’s] religious beliefs and the names of the martyrs.” He also exploited his meetings with sources of emulation and Friday Prayer leaders of several cities to gain fame and fortune. Billions of rials moved through his bank accounts, the report added.
Others reported that despite never finishing high school, Soheili became the head of Qom’s youth election campaign for President Ebrahim Raisi. However, Hadi Servati, the secretary of the “Friends of the Islamic Revolution Party,” has denied this report, adding that he did not know Mehrshad Soheili at all.
Some conservative news agencies, including Tasnim and the semi-official Fars, published several reports on Soheili’s “activities” in the past. The media identified him as the “commander of Imam Mahdi Garrison,” “managing director of Imam Mahdi Institute,” and “president of the Imam Sadegh Institute.” Soheili’s activities included five “national campaigns” and “providing religious help for distributing vital food products” in 13 provinces during the coronavirus pandemic. Soheili reportedly secured loans for young couples, facilitated the repairs of 50,000 homes for the disadvantaged, and was the ambassador of the “custodians of the shrine of Hazrat Masumeh.”
The Tehran-based Roozarooz online newspaper published an investigative report titled “Catch Me If You Can: Mehrshad Soheili, Who Had Found the World’s Loophole” in its July 19 issue on Mehrshad Soheili’s alleged crimes.
“The Imam Mahdi Cultural Institute, Imam Mahdi Garrison, and most recently the Imam Sadegh Institute are titles Mr. Soheili has used frequently,” the report said. “However, Imam Mahdi Cultural Institute and Imam Sadegh Institute do not exist. Even if they did, Mehrshad Soheili could not have possibly registered them, simply because he has not reached the legal age to conduct such activities.”
“However, it is easy to register Jihadi groups,” the report noted. “The Mohammad Rasulullah Corps Construction Basij has a website which allows anyone to choose a name for their jihadi group. Mehrshad Soheili reportedly registered his jihadi group on this site. Choosing the word ‘garrison’ and referring to Soheili as a ‘garrison commander’ diverts one’s attention from an organically formed Basij group to a military organization, which is what Soheili intended to do. It is unclear which institution oversees the registrations and activities of jihadi groups.”
“Some reports had said that Nematollah Davoudian and IRNA [the Islamic Republic News Agency] had compiled Soheili’s biography,” the writer of the article in Roozarooz explained. “However, the manager of IRNA’s office in Ilam Province, Masumeh Omidi, told me she did not know that there was such a book.”
“I contacted Nematollah Davoudian, a poet living in Ilam, who said ‘a devout [Muslim]’ named ‘Mr. Beheshti from Qom’ had asked him to write a book about Soheili for $112,” the reporter said. “Davoudian explained Soheili did not have many friends and associates to provide him with any information, so he contacted those offices and spoke to the managers. Ultimately, he wrote a 70-page text and gave it to them but never received the entire fee. He reportedly received $26 instead of $112, and only after threatening to travel to Qom to demand his fee.”
“It is unclear how much money and from what institutions and under what pretext Mr. Soheili has received so far,” the report added. “However, he had enough funds to spend on spreading inaccurate information about himself.”