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Parliamentary Inquiry Promised Into Missing Coronavirus Millions In Iran

Ahmad Amirabadi Farahani, a member of Iran’s parliament (Majles) said Wednesday that the legislature would launch an investigation into the health minister’s complaint that the ministry had received only a small portion of one billion euros promised for fighting the coronavirus.

Iran’s Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei on April 6 approved a request by President Hassan Rouhani to withdraw one billion euros ($1.16 billion) from the National Development Fund (NDF) to help combat the pandemic. The NDF is essentially a sovereign wealth fund holding foreign currency reserves put aside from oil sales to finance future development and investment.

Facing a drop in oil sales of around 90 percent caused by United States sanctions, and negative economic growth of 6-10 percent, Iran has been using the NDF for day-to-day spending, including on both military and civilian needs.

Health Minister Saeed Namaki complained September 22 in a note published by the media that his ministry has received less than 30 percent of the one-billion-euro appropriation. Namaki warned of a third Covid19 wave and said he could not imagine a more urgent call on the money. Following his remarks, Farahani, a member of parliament’s presidium, tweeted that the Majles would investigate.

In 2018, Khamenei authorized the withdrawal of up to $4 billion from the NDF to spend on the military and the state-controlled media, a questionable move under the fund’s charter.  In January 2020, Khamenei allocated 200 million euros from NDF to the Islamic Revolution Guards Corps (IRGC) just after the targeted killing of Qassem Soleimani, the IRGC’s Quds brigade commander, by the United States in Baghdad.

Iran does not reveal how much the NDF still has, but some estimate a figure around $70 billion. The International Monetary Fund has predicted that Iran’s total foreign currency reserves would decrease in 2020 from $104 billion to $85 billion and fall further in 2021 to $69 billion.

Since the NDF was set up more than a decade ago, Iran has had at least $600 billion revenue from oil exports and has planned to deposit around 30 percent in the NDF.

In April, Mohammad Hosseini, another member of parliament, said the Rouhani administration had received around $420 million from the fund to spend on government salaries in the absence of oil revenues.

With Iran an epicenter from the first outbreak of Coronavirus, the health sector is showing a growing demand for resources. Health Minister Namaki’s public letter was blunt about the challenging situation: “For eight months my colleagues and I did not have even one quiet day…We keep saying the pandemic cannot be controlled by pleas and requests and the coronavirus cannot be stopped without special assistance, but no one believes us.”

Namaki pleaded for meeting the requests of health workers, and continued: “My arsenal is becoming empty. A difficult autumn is approaching. A new pandemic wave is in the offing and we received just a small portion of the one billion the supreme leader agreed to.”

Namaki’s deputy Iraj Harirchi appeared on television on Wednesday to echo the call for more resources. “The patience and perseverance of doctors and nurses have a limit,” he told viewers.

The rate of new infections in Iran has picked up during the past week, with over 25,000 people dying according to official figures. The parliament’s research center, local officials and independent investigation by foreign-based media have all claimed the true number of infections and deaths is higher than admitted by the authorities.

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