December 17, 2016

The office of Ayatollah Khamenei, released a statement on December 13, 2016, reaffirming the tax exempt status of Astan-e Quds-e Razavi, the endowment that manages the shrine of Imam Reza. The tax privilege was originally granted to Astan by the founder of the Islamic republic, Ayatollah Khomeini in 1986. 

Companies with links to the endowment are also exempt from paying taxes. The official decree states “the exemption does not apply to sales and withholding (retention) taxes. In order to maintain transparency in all areas of business, the affiliated companies are urged to meet their gross and net tax liabilities, which will, in due time, be donated to Astan.”

The move stops the Iranian government’s year-long effort to tax Astan and Khatam al-Anbiya, the engineering and construction wing of the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC). On February 14, 2016, Mohammad Baqer Nobakht, President Rouhani’s economic advisor and the director of the Management and Planning Organization of Iran (MPO), boasted: “Fortunately, existing laws allow us to tax Astan and Khatam al-Anbiya.” 

Nobakht was pinning his hope on a law adopted by the Majlis (Iranian Parliament) last year to tax religious foundations and military-linked companies. The spokesman for the Majlis’ Joint committee said: “ Companies under the control of Astan and Khatam al-Anbiya were ordered in 2015 to pay taxes on their earnings in line with the existing tax laws.” Companies linked to Astan would, for all intents and purposes, be exempt from this law, meaning that taxes collected from them would be funnelled back to Astan.

Rouhani’s government reportedly planned to use the revenues resulting from the new tax law, which could amount to more than $377m, to build schools in rural and underserved areas of the country.