Other Sectors

Economic ties are not limited to the energy sector. Ahmadinejad and Chávez signed more than 300 agreements. They agreed to work together on low-income housing developments, cement plants, automobile factories in Venezuela, and a joint development bank. The Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) documented the poor track record of these planned projects. For instance, one of the cement factories announced in 2005 did not start production until 2012. Chávez announced Venirauto, a joint venture between Venezuela and Iranian automobile manufacturers, Iran Khodro and Saipa Group, in 2006, promising to produce over 25,000 cars per year. However, it produced fewer than 2,000 cars in 2014.

The joint development bank, Banco Internacional de Desarrollo, is a subsidiary of Iran’s Export Development Bank (EDBI), located in Venezuela. The U.S. government sanctioned both the development bank and EDBI in 2008 for their links to Iran’s Ministry of Defense and Armed Forces Logistics (MODAFL), which is involved in Iran’s weapons of mass destruction (WMD) program and is responsible for the planning, logistics, and funding of Iran’s regular military and the IRGC. Iran hoped to access the U.S. financial system through its bank in Venezuela, either directly or through correspondents that have access to U.S. banks. The Supreme Leader allegedly transferred $4 billion to his son Mojtaba Khamenei’s Venezuelan bank account in 2023. If true, the transfer could show how Iran views Venezuela as a safe haven for cash.

While not all plans for Iranian investment in Venezuela and joint business endeavors have materialized, Iran has successfully executed numerous enterprises in the country, serving both ideological and profit motives. Iran’s economic endeavors in the Western Hemisphere have been tied to weapons transfers and sanctions evasion. In 2009, Turkish authorities seized explosive materials, labeled as tractor supplies, destined for a Venezuelan lab on board a vessel from Iran. The use of seemingly benign businesses to cover up the shipment of illicit materials raises concern about factories in Venezuela set up and run by Iran, particularly those hidden in rural areas that are ideal for weapons manufacturing.

Furthermore, links exist between Megasis, an Iranian supermarket in Venezuela, and the IRGC. The supermarket works with Maduro’s CLAP food program, which the U.S. has sanctioned for money laundering. Megasis is a subsidiary of Ekta, which is owned by MODAFL and dominated by current and former IRGC officials. Ekta is headed by Issa Rezaie, an executive in several IRGC-owned companies. According to U.S. intelligence, Iranian businesses require permission from IRGC officials before they can operate abroad. Foreign business executives are, therefore, often chosen from the ranks of retired IRGC officials.

Finally, Iran has increased automobile exports to Venezuela and agreed to facilitate automobile manufacturing in Venezuela in accordance with the June 2022 cooperation agreement. Saipa, Iran’s second largest car manufacturer after Iran Khodro, will build new models in the Latin American country. According to Iranian media reports, Saipa will establish a joint production line with Venirauto. However, since it was founded in 2006 in partnership with Saipa and Iran Khodro, Venirauto has been largely unsuccessful at producing automobiles in Venezuela. In the agricultural sector, Iran is expected to grow crops on one million hectares of Venezuelan land to help cope with food insecurity and water shortages  in Iran.