By Safa Haeri

LONDON 22 Dec. (IPS) Without brag or boast, President Mohammad Khatami scored a big victory over the ruling conservatives by putting and end to "secret economic activities" of the Information (Intelligence) Ministry, rising hopes to see other administrations with similar illegal and illicit operations going the same path.

The information, passed almost unnoticed, was announced Saturday by Mr. Mohammad Ali Najafi, the Head of Budget and Planning Organisation (BPO) when presenting to the press the general guidelines of the third five-years development plan, saying the decision would "help improving Government's finances and ameliorate the economic situation of the nation".

"Though it would take a very long time before such noble and necessary decisions are really implemented, regardless of the fact that such promises have also been made many times before and no matter whether it will ever materialise, the fact that the existence of these dangerous and secret operations is now acknowledged publicly is in itself both a major achievement for Mr. Khatami and another taboo of the Islamic Republic that is broken", noted Mr. Sadeq Saba, a prominent London-based analyst of Iranian affairs.

"On the paper", the Ministry had stopped its fraudulent economic activities two month ago, but Mr. Abolhasan Banisadr, Islamic Republic's first elected president says the authorities were "forced" to announce it after he had disclosed some of the secret services illegal operations that includes production and export of heroin and other hard drugs.

According to the Paris-based Banisadr, the Intelligence Ministry has recently imported "large amount" of chemical products, including acetone, from unidentified European firms, for it's heroin production units in Iran.

"It's time now for the press and the public opinion to urge European governments to ask the Mollahrchy for what purpose the Intelligence Ministry's controlled firms have bought chemical products that can be used for producing both chemical weapons and heroin and other hard drugs", Mr. Banisadr told IPS, promising to disclose soon other explosive information on this subject.

"No one knows how many societies and firms these administrations operates, what kind of activities they run, how much they earn, what they do with their money", one informed sources in Tehran told Iran Press Service, adding that they are involved in "everything, from mobile phones to computers, to tea and sugar, cooking oil and drugs", one informed Tehran source said.

According to this source, Intelligence Ministry's so-called "economic activities" started more than 12 years ago, taking progressively "astronomic dimensions", big enough for the former Intelligence Minister hojatoleslam Ali Fallahian stating once that he can continue operating even if his budget is cut off.

All sources contacted by IPS converged in saying that incomes generated by the activities of firms controlled by the Intelligence Ministry were to finance terrorist and intelligence activities inside and outside the country, including the assassination of political and intellectual dissidents.

Working hand in hand and in close co-operation and collaboration, the Intelligence Ministry, the Revolutionary Guard's "Al Qod Unit" and the Deprived Foundation (Bonyad Mostaz'afan) operates myriad of covert and overt operations across the world, mostly in Europe, USA and Canada in the form of Islamic cultural centres, mosques, all kind of small and medium size shops and business firms, newspapers and publishing houses, restaurants, travel agencies etc. employing thousands of people both of Iranian and other Muslim countries nationals.

"Having the best of information, Intelligence Ministry economic agents and societies would make millions of dollars overnight by importing at opportune moment all kind of foodstuffs they knew before hand of their shortage, like, let's say, sugar, tea, meat, poultry, cooking oil etc.", one informed source indicated.

Another source of illegal revenue is entering imposed association with lucrative private firms, threatening them of blackmail if owners would refuse sharing profits, same sources added, citing the example of what might have happened to the directors of Arj company who, apparently because of their refusal of surrounding to blackmail, are now in jail accused of corruption.

According to Mr. Banisadr and other source, under the cover of computer firms established outside Iran, the both Intelligence Ministry and the Revolutionary Guards have been able to import sensitive, advanced technology, mostly from Europe and the US, thus bypassing international agreements banning such sales to the Islamic Republic.

Independent Iranian sources believe that there are more than 250 such firms established in Europe only, but other put the total number at more than 1500 throughout the world.

"Cutting these illegal activities would no doubt curtail terrorist operations of the Islamic regime", sources said, reminding that fighting against these secret operations was pledged by Mr. Khatami in the aftermath of last year's "chain murders" of dissidents by the Intelligence Ministry's official agents.

According to sketchy information distilled drop by drop by the officials under huge pressures from the reformist press and the public, the murders had been masterminded by Sa'id Emami, a former Deputy Intelligence Minister and a "gang" of high ranking officials of the same ministry.

Arrested with three other culprits after the Ministry acknowledged its involvement in the savage assassination of Mr. Dariush Foruhar, the leader of the nationalist and secularist Iranian People's Party and his wife Parvaneh, writers Mohammad Mokhtari and Mohammad Ja'far Pouyandeh, political activist Piruz Davani and political analyst Majid Sharif, Mr Emami reportedly committed suicide in prison.

But some of his friends and colleagues, including hojatoleslam Ruhollah Hosseinian said he had been killed in order to prevent identification of higher clerical authorities that ordered the killings.

Exempted from all taxes, profiting from advantageous exchange rates (of 70 Rials to the US against 3000 of the "official" rate and the 9000 in the market), not subject to any control from the Government, the bonyads and the hundreds of secret societies and firms operating for Intelligence Ministry, the Revolutionary Guards and the Office of he Leader to name some of them, cost the State billions of dollars each year, experts says.

"Those illegal and unaccounted huge revenues would explain the power of the Intelligence Ministry", one analyst pointed out.

Like other sources, Mr. Banisadr also agreed that now that the secret economic operations of the Intelligence Ministry are officially disclosed, it will "soon inflates and like the chain murders affair, to become another avalanche for the conservatives in general and ayatollah Ali Khameneh'i in particular, since in his capacity of the leader, he directly control all secret services, armed forces and bonyads among other key institutions".

Due to the fact that most of the terrorist operations against dissidents took place under his presidency, with Mr. Fallahian as his Intelligence Minister, former president ayatollah Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani is another top ranking official of the Islamic regime who would most probably face questions by the reform seeking press.

"Why Mr. Rafsanjani never ordered any investigations concerning the numerous suspect murders of prominent dissidents that took place when he was president?" asked Mr. Akbar Ganji, an outspoken analyst, scholar, writer and investigative journalist, firing the first salvo. ENDS SECRET SOCIETIES 221299