Iranian Soft Power: Vahid Alaghband and the Iran Heritage Foundation
The Iran Heritage Foundation, a UK-registered charity established in 1995, describes itself as a non-profit organisation that exists to “promote and preserve the rich culture and heritage of Iran.” To this end, it has partnered with such prestigious academic institutions as the University of St Andrews, the University of Cambridge, the University of Edinburgh and the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS) at the University of London, where it sponsors a number of lecturers, instructors and visiting fellows. The Foundation’s main source of funding is its Trustees and Patrons.
One of these Trustees is multi-millionaire Vahid Alaghband, who is both a co-founder and Chairman of the Foundation. He is also the founder and Chairman of the London-based Balli Group, an Anglo-Iranian trading conglomerate which Intelligence Online says plays a “key part in maintaining tight commercial and diplomatic ties between Iran and the West.”
In 2008, the Balli Group and several of its subsidiaries were issued with a Temporary Denial Order by the US Department of Commerce after it “knowingly re-exported three US-origin aircraft to Iran in violation of the Export Administration Regulations.” These Boeing 747s were leased through an intermediary to Mahan Airways, an Iranian airline known to be controlled by the family of former President and senior regime official Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani and which, according to the US State Department, “is associated with the Iranian Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps.”
Vahid Alaghband is also a major donor and “ambassador” of the PARSA Community Foundation, a grant-awarding entity whose principal beneficiaries include the National Iranian American Council (NIAC). The NIAC is frequently referred to in Iran’s state-run media as the “Iranian lobby” in the US, has many close connections with the clerical regime, and is a leading opponent of the economic sanctions currently imposed on Iran. In 2007, Vahid’s brother and business partner, Hassan Alaghband, Director of the Balli Group, attended a conference organised by the NIAC in Tehran, where he spoke alongside former Deputy Foreign Minister Abbas Maleki. According to Dr Patrick Clawson of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, Maleki is often called upon by the mullahs to “make nice to foreigners” on their behalf.
Another recipient of the generous donations made by Vahid Alaghband is the Brookings Institution in Washington DC, which was pledged a total of $900,000 between 2007 and 2009. Independent Iran analyst and writer Hassan Daioleslam has noted that during these years the Brookings Institution, which previously had been “dormant on Iran issues, suddenly woke up and started to produce an unprecedented number of round tables and publications that preached friendship and ‘dialogue’ with the mullahs.” In 2008, for example, the think tank produced a 34-page report, “Pathway to Coexistence: A New US Policy toward Iran,” together with the Council on Foreign Relations.
Also advocating dialogue and cooperation with the Iranian regime is Norman Lamont, the Non-Executive Director of the Balli Group who also happens to sit on the Advisory Board of the Iran Heritage Foundation. As Chairman of the British-Iranian Chamber of Commerce, Lamont has a vested interest in the removal of sanctions against the Iranian regime.
A recent case study demonstrates the influence that super-rich Vahid Alaghband and his associates are able to exert over the Iran Heritage Foundation and its members. In 2011, the University of Oxford was embroiled in controversy when it was alleged that the university had “bent over backwards” to admit former Iranian President Rafsanjani’s son Mehdi as a PhD student despite his obvious lack of qualifications. The Oxford Student reported at the time that Mehdi’s application “was reviewed by Dr Homa Katouzian, a member of the Oriental Institute … whose £2,000-a-year post is funded by the Iran Heritage Foundation.” Katouzian is also on the Foundation’s Academic Council. As noted above, the Alaghbands’ Balli Group had earlier conducted a multi-million dollar business deal with the Rafsanjani family’s Mahan Airways, prompting Emanuele Ottolenghi, a Senior Fellow of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, to suggest that “Katouzian may have been asked to fix up something for a friend, namely Vahid Alaghband.”
 See charity profile on www.charitycommission.gov.uk
 ‘Putting the Squeeze on the Iranians’, Intelligence Online, 15 May 2008