Revealed: Six UK Iran centres which backed IRGC get £700k handouts

The Covid payments were made despite open regime sympathies


Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps personnel are march at a military rally in Tehran (Photo: Hossein Beris/Middle East Images/Middle East Images via AFP)

Six British charities that openly supported the feared Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) received hundreds of thousands of pounds from the government under the pandemic furlough scheme, the JC can reveal.

The mosques and education centres claimed more than £680,000 despite having held events to eulogise the Iranian IRGC mastermind Qasem Soleimani after he was killed by a US drone in January 2020, two months before the furlough scheme began. There is no suggestion that claiming the money was unlawful.

It comes as Prime Minister Rishi Sunak continues to resist pressure to proscribe the IRGC as a terrorist organisation, despite well-established evidence about the danger it poses to Jews and regime dissidents in the UK – such as the stabbing of an Iranian journalist in London two weeks ago.

As the JC went to press, a cross-party group consisting of more than 100 MPs and peers was poised to send Sunak a letter arguing that proscription would make it more difficult for the IRGC and its proxies to operate on British soil.

One of the charities, the Islamic Centre of England (ICE) in London’s Maida Vale, which has been described by the Commons Foreign Affairs Select Committee chair Alicia Kearns as the IRGC’s “London office”, received furlough payments of £109,476 in 2020 and £129,556 in 2021. The ICE was given an official warning by the Charity Commission for holding a vigil attended by 2,000 people to mourn Soleimani after his death.

In 2022, the Charity Commission launched a statutory inquiry into the mosque after it hosted a series of extremist preachers and its then-director Seyed Hashem Moosavi – who is also the Iranian supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei’s official UK representative – called anti-regime protestors “soldiers of Satan”.

Other Islamic centres that got furlough money in Luton, London and Birmingham also held events to venerate Soleimani, while the regime-linked Islamic College of London (ICL) received £205,000.

The ICL is the London affiliate the al-Mostafa university in Qom, which has been sanctioned by America as a recruiting ground for the IRGC.

Proscribing the IRGC would make any expression of support for the group a criminal offence, putting it in the same category as al-Qaeda and Isis.

Among the senior politicians who backed proscription in debates in the Commons and Lords on Monday were shadow Foreign Secretary David Lammy, Shadow Defence Secretary John Healey, former home secretary Suella Braverman and former Tory leader Sir Iain Duncan Smith.

Braverman told the Commons that the IRGC was “the world’s chief sponsor of terrorism, funding and promoting terrorist plots, radicalisation and hostage-taking”, and pointed out that its proxies, Hamas and Hezbollah, are proscribed already.

But as yet there are few signs that Sunak intends to take this step. Although the move is supported by both the Labour Party and the Security Minister Tom Tugendhat, the Foreign Office continues to resist it, citing Iran’s threat to close Britain’s Tehran embassy if the IRGC were to be proscribed.

Sunak’s official spokesman said on Monday that having full diplomatic relations was “one of our most effective channels for avoiding escalation” in the spreading regional conflict, because it enabled the delivery of “robust messages” to the regime on human rights, detainees and “state threats”.

The UK government has already imposed sanctions on the IRGC and some of its commanders, meaning they cannot hold UK bank accounts or engage in financial transactions in Britain. According to Sunak and Foreign Secretary Lord Cameron, this already acts as an effective curb.

However, over the past 18 months, the JC has exposed a wide range of regime-linked activities in Britain, which sanctions have failed to prevent.

They include a range of joint research projects designed to upgrade drones and other military technologies between British and Iranian academics, at universities including Cambridge, Glasgow, Cranfield and Imperial College. Most of the Iranian academics are based at universities which are subject to UK sanctions related to the sharing of military or “dual use” technology with anyone in Iran.

Lord Polak, President of Conservative Friends of Israel, raised this issue in the House of Lords on Monday, asking for a government update on an official inquiry into the university collaborations announced by Sunak in June.

Lord True, the Lord Privy Seal, replied saying that following the JC’s investigation, “we have made our systems more robust”. He said that under new rules governing drones, it was now “illegal for a UK business, UK national or anyone in the UK not just to export UAVs [unmanned aerial vehicles] and their components but to provide technical assistance, financial services, funds and brokering services”.

He said the government was taking the matter “very seriously indeed”.

To date, the inquiry has been led by officials from the Department of Business and Trade. However, a government source told the JC on Tuesday that reports had now been passed to Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs and the Office for Sanctions Implementation at the Treasury – bodies that have the power to impose civil fines or bring criminal charges for breaching sanctions.

Among the IRGC activities in Britain first reported by this newspaper that proscription would render illegal is the series of talks by six IRGC commanders to students at British universities, which were arranged by the pro-Iranian regime Islamic Students Association through the Kanoon Towhid, its headquarters in Hammersmith.

The speakers included Saeed Ghasemi, a top commander in the IRGC’s feared plainclothes branch, whose job is to hunt down critics of the regime. He has boasted that he helped train al-Qaeda terrorists in the years before 9/11.

He told his British audience that there was no Nazi Holocaust and praised Soleimani’s “martyrdom”, saying the “radiant energy” that resulted from the death of the terror chief would “bring an end to the life of the oppressors and occupiers, Zionists and Jews across the world”.

Another speaker, Hossein Yekta, said “the era of the Jews will soon be at end”.

Other JC disclosures about IRGC activities in the UK have included evidence that it has been conducting surveillance operations with a view to assassinating critics of the regime and prominent Jews in Britain – allegations later confirmed by Tugendhat.

As well as the ICE, at least three mosques that held events to mourn Soleimani in January 2020 later received furlough payments. One was the Masjid-e-Ali in Luton, where teenagers were photographed standing in front of a large image of Soleimani with the slogan “If death is inevitable then laying down your life for God is the best death”. In 2021, say Charity Commission documents, the mosque was given £117,400 from the government.

In Birmingham, the Imam Reza Centre announced after Soleimani’s death it was honouring “our beloved martyrs” Soleimani and Abu Mahdi al-Mohandis, another IRGC commander who died alongside him. It was given £10,000 in 2020 and £19,740 in 2021.

The Idara Maarif-es- Islam in Small Heath received a total of £67,000. A wake for Soleimani was also held there. Its spokesman told the JC that “if or when a person/entity is proscribed a terrorist by the UK, we do not endorse them” – suggesting that if the IRGC had been proscribed, it would not have held the event.

The Islamic Human Rights Commission, which organises the annual Quds Day parade, an event directed by Iran that is dedicated to the cause of destroying Israel where marchers have often been seen carrying placards glorifying Soleimani and speakers have praised Hezbollah, received £20,190 in furlough money.

Tory MP Andrew Percy called the furlough payments “a disgusting misuse of taxpayers’ money”, saying “every effort should have been made to recover it”.

He added: “It also highlights the very deep problem we have with extremism in this country. Is it any wonder we have hateful behaviour on our streets when the glorification of extremism and terrorism is green lighted?

“The weakness in dealing with examples such as these is allowing radicalisation to become the norm.”

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