Mojtaba Khamenei

Mojtaba Khamenei is the second son and reported heir apparent of Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei.Julian Borger, “Mojtaba Khamenei: gatekeeper to Iran’s supreme leader,” Guardian (London), June 22, 2009, https://www.theguardian.com/world/2009/jun/22/mojtaba-khamenei-iran-protest. The supreme leader reportedly transferred authority to his son in December 2020 amid rumors of his failing health.Darragh Roche, “Journalist Claims Iran’s Supreme Leader Transfers Power to Son as Health Deteriorates,” Newsweek, December 5, 2020, https://www.newsweek.com/fakhrizadeh-iran-1552586. Observers have suspected for several years that the elder Khamenei has been trying to position his son as his successor. According to the U.S. government, Ali Khamenei has “delegated a part of his leadership responsibilities to” his son, who works closely with the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) Quds Force and the Basij militia.“Treasury Designates Supreme Leader of Iran’s Inner Circle Responsible for Advancing Regime’s Domestic and Foreign Oppression,” U.S. Department of the Treasury, November 4, 2019, https://home.treasury.gov/news/press-releases/sm824.

Mojtaba Khamenei is one of six children and grew up in Tehran after the 1979 Islamic Revolution. In 1987, he graduated from the prestigious Alavi High School, where the children of many other regime insiders attended. After high school, Khamenei served in the Iranian armed forces during the final years of the Iran-Iraq War. In 1999, he traveled to the Iranian holy city of Qom to study theology under ultra-conservative religious clerics.Muhammad Sahimi, “The Man in the Shadow: Mojtaba Khamenei,” PBS, July 16, 2009, https://www.pbs.org/wgbh/pages/frontline/tehranbureau/2009/07/the-man-in-the-shadow-mojtaba-khamenei.html. Khamenei is married to the daughter of previous parliamentary speaker Gholam-Ali Haddad-Adel.Hollie McKay, “Is Iran’s Supreme Leader preparing to designate his son as the next in line?,” Fox News, December 7, 2020, https://www.foxnews.com/world/is-irans-supreme-leader-preparing-to-designate-his-son-as-the-successor.

Iran analysts believe that Khamenei maintains close ties with the IRGC and wields tremendous influence behind the scenes. He allegedly has influence over the budgets of organizations that answer directly to his father.Hollie McKay, “Is Iran’s Supreme Leader preparing to designate his son as the next in line?,” Fox News, December 7, 2020, https://www.foxnews.com/world/is-irans-supreme-leader-preparing-to-designate-his-son-as-the-successor. Khamenei has used his position to influence Iranian affairs to advance his father’s hardline agenda. Former parliamentary speaker Mehdi Karroubi wrote to Ali Khamenei in 2005, and again in 2009, to accuse his son of interfering in Iran’s presidential elections. According to Karroubi, the younger Khamenei had influenced his father and other top IRGC officials to switch their support from Mohammad Bagher Ghalibaf, a former IRGC air force division commander, to Ahmadinejad.Muhammad Sahimi, “The Man in the Shadow: Mojtaba Khamenei,” PBS, July 16, 2009, https://www.pbs.org/wgbh/pages/frontline/tehranbureau/2009/07/the-man-in-the-shadow-mojtaba-khamenei.html. The supreme leader dismissed the accusations and placed Karroubi under house arrest in 2009.Reza Haqiqatnezhad, “Why The US Sanctioned Khamenei’s Son,” Radio Farda, November 8, 2019, https://en.radiofarda.com/a/why-the-us-sanctioned-khamenei-s-son-iran/30260018.html; Hollie McKay, “Is Iran’s Supreme Leader preparing to designate his son as the next in line?,” Fox News, December 7, 2020, https://www.foxnews.com/world/is-irans-supreme-leader-preparing-to-designate-his-son-as-the-successor. In 2009, Khamenei reportedly helped secure Mahmoud Ahmadinejad re-election in Iran’s June 12 presidential elections. When protests spread across Iran to contest the election result, Khamenei allegedly directed the Basij militia to quash the protests, resulting in at least 20 deaths.Julian Borger, “Khamenei’s son takes control of Iran’s anti-protest militia,” Guardian (London), July 8, 2009, https://www.theguardian.com/world/2009/jul/08/khamenei-son-controls-iran-militia. Protesters reportedly chanted, “Wish you death Mojtaba, so you would never be the next leader!”Reza Haqiqatnezhad, “Why The US Sanctioned Khamenei’s Son,” Radio Farda, November 8, 2019, https://en.radiofarda.com/a/why-the-us-sanctioned-khamenei-s-son-iran/30260018.html.

In early 2012, Ahmadinejad accused Khamenei of embezzling 600,000 euros in government funds. Ahmadinejad made the accusation after a pro-Khamenei faction accused his adviser and chief of staff Esfandiar Rahim Mashaei of embezzling $2 billion. Mashaei is also married to Ahmadinejad’s son. Ahmadinejad reportedly said if Mashaei were to be investigated, Mojtaba Khamenei should be as well.Katerina Nicholas, “Ahmadinejad accuses Ayatollah Khamenei’s son of embezzlement,” Digital Journal, January15, 2012, http://www.digitaljournal.com/article/317922.

On November 4, 2019, the U.S. Department of the Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) designated Khamenei as a Specially Designated National for “representing the Supreme Leader in an official capacity despite never being elected or appointed to a government position aside from work in the office of his father.”“Treasury Designates Supreme Leader of Iran’s Inner Circle Responsible for Advancing Regime’s Domestic and Foreign Oppression,” U.S. Department of the Treasury, November 4, 2019, https://home.treasury.gov/news/press-releases/sm824. The Treasury Department accused Khamenei of working closely with Qasem Soleimani, then commander of the Quds Force.“Treasury Designates Supreme Leader of Iran’s Inner Circle Responsible for Advancing Regime’s Domestic and Foreign Oppression,” U.S. Department of the Treasury, November 4, 2019, https://home.treasury.gov/news/press-releases/sm824. Soleimani died in a January 2020 U.S. airstrike in Iraq.Missy Ryan and Dan Lamothe, “Pentagon launched airstrike that killed Iranian commander Qasem Soleimani, Defense Sec. Mark Esper says,” Washington Post, January 2, 2020, https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/national-security/defense-secretary-says-iran-and-its-proxies-may-be-planning-fresh-attacks-on-us-personnel-in-iraq/2020/01/02/53b63f00-2d89-11ea-bcb3-ac6482c4a92f_story.html.

On December 5, 2020, Iranian journalist Momahad Ahwaze claimed on Twitter that Ali Khamenei, amid growing health concerns, had transferred authority to Mojtaba Khamenei. According to Ahwaze, Ali Khamenei canceled a December 4 meeting with Iranian President Hassan Rouhani because of his deteriorating health. Ahwaze claimed Ali Khamenei’s conditioned worsened overnight, leading to the transfer of power. He did not state specifics of Ali Khamenei’s illness, but various media reports suggested the supreme leader may have prostate cancer.Darragh Roche, “Journalist Claims Iran’s Supreme Leader Transfers Power to Son as Health Deteriorates,” Newsweek, December 5, 2020, https://www.newsweek.com/fakhrizadeh-iran-1552586. On December 7 on Twitter, Iranian official Mehdi Fazaeli denied rumors of Ali Khamenei’s declining health and claimed that the supreme leader was “busy vigorously carrying out his plan according to his routine.”“Iranian official close to Khamenei's office says leader is in good health – Fars,” Reuters, December 7, 2020, https://www.reuters.com/article/idUSKBN28H113. If Ali Khamenei dies while still in power, a transfer of authority to his son would be temporary as Iran’s Assembly of Experts is constitutionally charged with selecting the supreme leader’s permanent successor.Yonah Jeremy Bob, “If Iran’s Khamenei must step down, who will replace him?,” Jerusalem Post, December 6, 2020, https://www.jpost.com/middle-east/if-irans-khamenei-must-step-down-who-will-replace-him-651279.

United States

The U.S. Department of the Treasury Office of Foreign Assets Control designated Mojtaba Khamenei as a Specially Designated National on November 4, 2019.“Treasury Designates Supreme Leader of Iran’s Inner Circle Responsible for Advancing Regime’s Domestic and Foreign Oppression,” U.S. Department of the Treasury, November 4, 2019, https://home.treasury.gov/news/press-releases/sm824.

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