The Iranian parliament’s recent investigation into a scheme to import luxury cars instead of medicine threatens to erode the credibility of a leading pro-Iran lobbying group that has long claimed that economic sanctions are preventing access to medicine in Iran.
An investigation by Iranian lawmakers recently revealed that nearly $2 billion that had been allocated to the importation of medicine into Iran was actually spent on the purchase of luxury cars, according to Farsi and English reports.
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While it had long been suspected that the Iranian government was squandering funds for medicine, pro-Tehran advocacy groups like the National Iranian American Council (NIAC) used the medicine shortage as a hook to claim that sanctions were causing the shortage.
NIAC, which has long been suspected of lobbying on behalf of Iran, continues to make the claim and has been raising money off the issue, prompting criticism from those who say the group’s "propaganda machine" is disingenuously misleading lawmakers and the media.
NIAC’s repeated claims that U.S. sanctions led to the medicine shortage have been widely picked up and repeated by the Western media, which has done little to verify these claims.
NIAC even brought up the issue during a 2012 meeting at the White House with Obama administration officials.
NIAC’s campaign also has gained traction on Capitol Hill, where Rep. Jim Moran (D., Va.) authored a letter on the issue that was then used in one of the group’s action alerts stations, "Don't let sanctions block medicine for Iranians."
NIAC has also sent its representative to congressional events in order to pester lawmakers about the issue. During one such confrontation last year, Rep. Ed Royce (R., Calif.) chastised a NIAC official for pushing factually inaccurate "propaganda" about the medicine shortage.
This has not deterred NIAC, which has gone on to launch the "Iranian medical access project" to push the narrative that the United States is to blame for the medicine crisis.
"Why are U.S. sanctions blocking medicine for Iranians and how can we fix this?" NIAC asked in another one of its policy briefs.
News of the luxury car scheme throws into question the factual accuracy of NIAC’s years-long campaign.
"NIAC has manufactured excuse after excuse for weakening sanctions and helping the mullahs," said one senior official at D.C.-based pro-Israel organization. "Their talking points have been exposed as fabrications again and again. It's no wonder that many people, including sitting members of Congress, accuse them of spreading regime propaganda."
"The real mystery is why the White House and its allies insist on taking meetings with them," the source said.
Other recent reports have indicated that Iranian pharmaceutical companies owned by the Iranian regime have manufactured the medicine shortage in order to drive up prices.
Profits to many of these companies soared despite economic sanctions and money is believed to have flowed directly to Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei.
As average Iranians struggle to obtain key medications, Iran’s ruling class has enjoyed relatively unfettered access to top-notch healthcare, a fact that has not been raised in NIAC’s talking points.
When rumors of the medicine scam first emerged in 2012, then-president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad sacked the country’s health minister in order to keep her silent.
It is also believed that another $20 billion was diverted from Iran’s health sector to a housing project. The diversion of these funds reportedly sparked a shortage of nurses and sick beds for ICU patients.
U.S. Treasury Department officials have repeatedly confirmed that Iran’s healthcare crisis has nothing to do with economic sanctions.
"It has been the longstanding policy of the United States not to target Iranian imports of humanitarian items, such as food, medicine and medical devices," a Treasury official was quoted as saying by Reuters. "If there is in fact a shortage of some medicines in Iran, it is due to choices made by the Iranian government, not the U.S. government."
However, the Iranian government and its advocates in the United States have used the crisis to divert attention away from Iran’s massively corrupt political system.