[ap] A consortium connected to Iran's powerful Revolutionary Guard bought a majority share in the country's telecommunications company Sunday, Iranian state media reported, bringing the strategic sector under the elite military force's control.
The Etemad-e-Mobin consortium's $7.8 billion purchase gives it a 50 percent plus one share stake in the Iranian Telecommunications Company, Iran's state media reported Sunday.
The deal underscores the Guard's increasing clout in Iran since hardline President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad — himself a former Guard member — came to power in 2005. Over that period, Companies affiliated with the Guard have been awarded more than 750 government contracts in construction and oil and gas projects.
State television said Etemad-e-Mobin was selected over another Iranian consortium that had submitted a bid for the majority stake. A third group was eliminated after authorities decided it did not hold the necessary security credentials.
The telecom share sold Sunday is part of the government's project to privatize sectors still in state hands. But reform-minded politicians, and even some conservatives, have complained that institutions affiliated with the ruling system are being awarded stakes in the privatized firms, while the private sector is left out.
The purchase gives the Revolutionary Guard, whose forces led the violent crackdown on the massive street protests after the disputed June presidential election allowed Ahmadinejad a second term in office, control over the country's telecommunications network.
During the demonstrations, the government routinely interrupted mobile phone networks to hinder the opposition's organization.
The Guard was created after the 1979 Islamic Revolution as an ideological bulwark to defend Iran's clerical rule. The 120,000-strong elite force controls Iran's missile program, and has its own ground, naval and air units.
On top of its enormous military power, the Guard has become a vast military-based conglomerate, and has amassed a network of economic and political power in recent years that extends to virtually every aspect of life in Iran.
Companies tied to the force routinely land lucrative construction contracts in the oil, gas and farming industries.
Its finances are not on the government budget, and are free from any state oversight. The Guard is accountable only to Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who has the final say on all state matters in Iran.
Iran's Rev. Guard buys stake in Iran telecom