How much of the $100 billion Iran spent on nukes was embezzled?

Western officials warned against drawing any conclusions from the departure of Iran’s chief negotiator from the Vienna nuclear talks. Last week Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khameini, declared that Iran never will allow inspections of nuclear facilities or give details about its past nuclear program. In the West as well as the Persian-language media, Khameini’s statements are considered an expression of ideology.

There may be less than meets the eye to Iran’s reluctance to divulge information about its past effort to build nuclear weapons. The West wants a full accounting of what Iran did in the past, but it is almost certain that Iran never has done such an accounting, because a large part of the $100 billion it has spent on nuclear R&D was embezzled.

According to the Carnegie Endowment and the Federation of American Scientists, “Iran’s quest for the development of nuclear program has been marked by enormous financial costs and risks. It is estimated that the program’s cost is well over $100 billion, with the construction of the Bushehr reactor costing over $11 billion, making it one of the most expensive reactors in the world.” The word “opaque” doesn’t begin to describe the slapdash character of Iranian controls. According to the Carnegie/FAS report, “Iran’s Bushehr plant is a hybrid German-Russian reactor that resembles a virtual petri dish of amalgamated equipment and antiquated technology.” A great deal of the equipment had to be sourced covertly at high cost, and a good deal of outright theft may have been hidden in supposed payoffs to intermediaries.

Within Iran,  the disappearance of billions earmarked for the nuclear program could be swept under the national security rug. If Western inspectors ask for an accounting of how money was spent, irregularities would come to light. The biggest single public expenditure in one of the world’s most corrupt countries may be a secret that the Iranian state feels compelled to keep–even at the risk of scuttling an agreement with the West that is overwhelmingly to Iran’s advantage.

Categories: Chatham House Rules, David P. Goldman, Spengler

  • Procivic

    Is the author’s point to disclose the scope of Iran’s nuclear program, its high cost or the financial irregularities that he thinks may have occurred? Or maybe it’s just another propaganda lunge by a usual suspects to overaly the current nuclear talks with more doubt.

  • Paul

    I’m endlessly amused by the capacity of “intelligence” think-tanks (read, right wing corporate propagandists) to come up with a new fiction as to why we should believe that non-existent Iran nukes ever existed. Keep trying boys! ( but for how long will Atimes publish this stuff I wonder?)

  • spring12

    Iran is not denying inspection at the nuclear sites, but rather denying inspection of the military sites which are two totally different things. Looking tat the name one can tell the author is an Israeli stooge gasping for the last breath.

  • Donald Schellberg

    I don’t think anyone believes that Iran has ever had a nuclear weapon. If they did, we really couldn’t do anything about them; just look at North Korea.

    The only reason that Iran is so adamant about their nuclear program is because they almost certainly have plans to build nuclear weapons for strategic reasons. Here is why nuclear energy is such a bad idea for Iran:

    Renewables like solar have come so far down in price, that it is now cheaper than nuclear, especially when combined with natural gas(10% of Iranian gas production is flared off). Because of the amount of annual sunlight, Iran is at or below grid parity for solar.

    The Iranian plateau is one massive earthquake fault. Bushihr is located on one. If you look at the tectonic structure of Iran, it looks like a broken plate with so many fractures.

    Cooling a nuclear plant requires a lot of water, which Iran simply doesn’t have (cooling with salt water has maintenance issues). Iran is in the midst of a long term dry spell( just look at Lake Umia).

    They almost certainly have dreams of a nuclear arsenal (also it is a really good way to rip off the Iranian people, through embezzlement). That would guarantee the survival of the extremely repressive Islamic republic and, at the same time, allow it to dominate and bully the rest of the Middle East.

  • Jay

    “Right wing” and “corporate” are far from synonymous these days, as demonstrated by the near-unanimous support of Western corporations for “diversity” and same-sex marriage.

    It’s ethnic, not corporate, interests that dominate Western media, and much, much else.

  • Jay

    Or to resist USrael’s bullying and never-ending quest for domination.

  • Donald Schellberg

    Is it bullying to insist that you adhere to universal human rights and let the innocent prisoners of conscience out of Iranian prisons? There are many Baha’is now in Iranian prisons solely for the fact that they are Baha’is. Some have been sentenced for twenty year terms(no parole) and when they get out they are resentenced again and again(please find the facts from Now it might bullying for the US and other countries to insist that Iran adhere to international standards, but bullying a bully is not bad, it is justice, it is what they truly merit. Once the Islamic Republic gets the bomb, they will be totally unresponsive to any call whatsover(just look at North Korea), and will be able to destroy the entire Baha’i community of Iran with impunity.

  • Jay

    Many nations persecute minorities and fall short of international human rights norms, including erstwhile US allies.

    Iran’s sins on those scores don’t de-legitimize its claims for sovereignty, or its resistance to USrael’s attempts to maintain a unipolar global order.

  • Donald Schellberg

    You are right every country has fallen short, the US included. Most countries there is some sort of recourse one can take to appeal for justice. I lived under the Noriega regime and I was able to argue my case in court, and won, despite being an American. In the case of the Baha’is of Iran, they are solely prisoners of conscience because Baha’is obey the laws of the land in which they reside. This is the difference, we have no recourse, and it is based on solely religious prejudice. Here is a pronouncement from a Deputy of the Judiciary Branch of the Islamic Republic, Hadi Sadeghi, “Religions such as the Baha’i faith who claim to be a new religion and are supported by the fake regimes such as Zionism, are not considered religion in Iran; therefore, the objections of the human rights groups who ask us to accept the Baha’i as a religion is baseless”

  • Donald Schellberg

    And lets compare Israel versus Iran and their treatment of religious minorities. I can go visit the Baha’i shrines(they were established in 1900, before the state of Israel) in Israel anytime without any fear whatsover. Now theoretically, I could the Baha’i Holy Places in Iran, such as the House of the Bab in Shiraz, oh wait a minute, it was paved over by the government. There is a street light where one of the Holiest Baha’i places were. Now compare that with Israel and the al Aqaa mosque in Jerusalem. Guess what, there is still a mosque there that people can visit freely and guess where it is located? On top of the temple mount in Jerusalem, the holiest place in Judaism.

  • Donald Schellberg

    Here is a question for you. Lets say ISIS conquers all of Syria and establishes its own caliphate country. So according to your logic they should be allowed to pursue nuclear weapons because they legitimate claims to sovereignty.

  • Jay

    Silly answer.

    ISIS is a foreign-backed (some would say foreign-created) entity, with no historical claims to legitimacy.

  • Donald Schellberg

    So, Hitler and the Nazis would have a perfect right to develop a nuclear weapon if they were around today? And the US and the rest of the world would have no recourse but to watch them do it.

    And Also, Kim Jong Un, would have the right to deploy his nuclear weapons.

    And by the way Bagdhadi, is an Iraqi national, so if he established a Sunnistan in Western Iraq, than it would be OK for him to acquire nuclear weapons.

  • Jay

    You’re Baha’i, so I accept it’s a personal issue for you.

    Israel/(fill in the blank) comparisons re: tolerance are inapposite to a discussion of global power struggles.

  • Donald Schellberg

    Unfortunately probably true, in my eyes all have rejected the will of God which is manifest in these verses by Baha’u’llah, “The rulers and kings of the earth must needs attend it, and, participating in its deliberations, must consider such ways and means as will lay the foundations of the world’s Great Peace amongst men. Such a peace demandeth that the Great Powers should resolve, for the sake of the tranquillity of the peoples of the earth, to be fully reconciled among themselves. Should any king take up arms against another, all should unitedly arise and prevent him. If this be done, the nations of the world will no longer require any armaments, except for the purpose of preserving the security of their realms and of maintaining internal order within their territories” which has been more or less rejected by most of the countries in the world, including the United States. Which leaves us with the lesser of many evils, it boils down to real politic, which means that claims of soveignty especially by governments that are not democratically elected by the people, are dubious at best(Rouhani is merely a figurehead to serve at the pleasure of the assembly of experts). So the question I ask you is when a Saudi puts his head on a pillow to go to bed at night, is he more worried that Israel has nukes or that Iran does. Peace and secure.

  • Mikronos

    What business is it of the west whether money was embezzled or not? It’s not as if the G5+1 were ‘investors’. And if it was, so what.? It’s a cinch those rials weren’t ‘smuggled out of Iran’ and invested in European real estate.

    Mind you, $100 million is no chump change. remember the $20 billion that America only ‘lost’ part of in Iraq? Imagine 5 C-17s filled with palletized Franklins and then multiply that by another five – in what? Paper rials, euros, shekels? Gold and ‘preshus’ gems?

    100 billion goes AWOL and it’s going to affect more than the mullahs.

  • Mr. Bernard Wijeyasingha

    One of the contradictions of the US foreign policy of morality regarding the Iranian nuclear deal is the history behind “Operation Paperclip”,
    When world war 2 ended, there was a race between the Soviet Union and the United States to get their hands on Nazi technology. The US set up “Operation Paperclip” where over 1 thousand Nazi Scientists and their families, were spirited away to the US to work on US missile and nuclear technology.
    One of those Scientists was Wernher Von Braun. With the help of Himmler he had access to Jewish slaves. He was the head of the V2 rocket system of Nazi Germany
    The Jews were worked till they either got sick. If they got sick they were sent to the gas chambers, If they did not get sick then they were worked till they died (either due to malnutrition conditions. or other debilitating issues of a slave). These Jews were dispensable and were quickly replaced. Wernher Von Braun claimed he had nothing to do with them, since they were administered by Himmler. Wernher Von Braun and his family were brought to the US where he became the “Father of rocket Technology”. He later became the head of the US NASA program and remained its head till the mid 1960’s. None of the 1 thousand odd Nazi Scientists or their families ever had to face the Nuremberg trials for crimes against Humanity. In that light I find it very hard as an American to see Washington D.C. bring up the moral issues of Iran’s nuclear program.

  • Rob Naardin

    Good Stuff, Dave. According the Carnegie Endowment and the Federation of American Sex Workers, this is a Five Dollar Sucky, article.