Among the many ghostly memories conjured up by Iran’s current tumult, the unsolved murder of Paul Klebnikov is one of the most unexpected. After all, Klebnikov was known primarily for his investigative journalism in Russia, where he exposed myriad tales of corruption, thuggery, and outright theft. Yet The Lede recently reminded us of Klebnikov’s fine work in Iran, where he courageously delved into the family finances of the nation’s religious leaders. One of his key targets was Ayatollah Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, now one of the ongoing drama’s key players. What Klebnikov discovered certainly made him persona non grata in Tehran’s corridors of power:
The 1979 revolution transformed the Rafsanjani clan into commercial pashas. One brother headed the country’s largest copper mine; another took control of the state-owned TV network; a brother-in-law became governor of Kerman province, while a cousin runs an outfit that dominates Iran’s $400 million pistachio export business; a nephew and one of Rafsanjani’s sons took key positions in the Ministry of Oil; another son heads the Tehran Metro construction project (an estimated $700 million spent so far). Today, operating through various foundations and front companies, the family is also believed to control one of Iran’s biggest oil engineering companies, a plant assembling Daewoo automobiles, and Iran’s best private airline.
Revisiting Klebnikov’s “Millionaire Mullahs” piece made us wonder about the state of the investigation into his assassination. Alas, the news is not good—last year, Russia’s permitted the prosecutors to suspend the case indefinitely, meaning that it’s virtually guaranteed that no one will ever face justice for the crime.
But Klebnikov’s friends haven’t given up. And we’re encouraged by the fact that the effort is being led by the great Richard Behar, author of perhaps the best investigative business story ever written—and not just because it describes the Sultan of Brunei’s eldest son as someone “who can’t walk and chew gum.”