An investigation by Iranian analysts in the U.K. and U.S. has uncovered a sham college and various attached businesses in London with close ties to the Iranian regime, which report hundreds of millions of dollars in assets despite no apparent office, campus or actual activities.
Analysts fear the institution, which is linked to similarly-questionable academic institutions established by the Iranian regime around the world, may be used for money laundering and circumventing sanctions too.
Mohamamd Jorjandi, an Iranian-born cyber-crime specialist based in the U.S, and Vahid Mahdavi, a Manoto TV producer in London, have spent months examining the London Modern Science College (LMS), which describes itself as “The UK’s leading distance learning college.” Without any accreditation from a UK body, it appears only to offer “honorary degrees.”
It did not take much investigation, Jorjandi and Mahdavi found, to uncover an array of alarming allegations.
“Professor” Ali Ehteshami, an Iranian national who resides in Iran, established LMS in 2015. On his résumé, Ehteshami claims to have been a member of the election campaign teams for the Islamic Republic of Iran’s former president Ahmadinejad, presidential candidate Mohammad Ghalibaf (who also served as a senior commander of the designated terrorist organization, IRGC), as well as the regime’s current president, Ebrahim Raisi.
Ehteshami incorporated the London Modern Science College in 2017, listing a North London address for the business and a Tehran address for himself, and including a statement of capital claiming an astonishing total share value of £500 million ($574 million). The documents also show £1 million of shares already paid for by Ehteshami.
The most recent company accounts for LMS, filed in 2021, claim net assets of £500 million, with “cash at bank and in hand” at £250 million.
Despite these claimed enormous amounts, this college does not appear to have a physical building or a main office in the U.K, and no history of evidence of active programs or students. The declared registered address for the limited company is a ground floor apartment in Finchley, North London, also used by several other limited companies for correspondence.
After speaking with neighbors of the property, the investigators determined that the apartment is rented by Walid Ka’abi, whose brother – according to an Instagram post belonging to Ka’abi,(now deleted) – is a member of Iran’s legislative body, the Majlis.
Ali Ehteshami is the director of several other limited companies registered in the U.K. The Islamic World Economic Cooperation Organization, for instance, is also registered at the same Finchley address in North London as the LMS. Company documents list another Iranian national co-director by the name of Ali Akbar Shoumollahussein, whose residence is declared in Indonesia.
Public accounts report issued share capital for the company at a preposterous £999 billion, albeit with none of that share capital actually financed. Incorporation documents, however, appear to claim Ehteshami paid £1.4 billion as part of his initial shareholdings.
A third company, BIIG Ltd, reports similarly unbelievable amounts, declaring over £200 million in the bank.
These absurd claimed amounts are likely, the investigators believe, to be an error produced by the sheer incompetence of these regime-tied operatives; or perhaps an over-zealous lie to exaggerate their own influence and usefulness to the regime.
And those regime links are clear. Ehteshami’s bogus London Modern Science college is backed and accredited by the Inter-Islamic Network on Virtual Universities (CINVU), an Iranian institution which the regime’s parliament funds directly, with an allocated annual budget of $6 million.
Ehteshami himself is a board member of the CINVU. On CINVU’s website, the Deputy of Strategic Affairs and Head of the Permanent Secretariat is introduced as Ali Karimi Morid. On his Instagram page, Morid has promoted Ehteshami’s LMS.
Morid and Ehteshami are featured in several pictures together with top Iranian officials, including the head of Iran’s Supreme National Council of Cyberspace, Dr. Abolhassan Firoozabad, as well as Iran’s former Minister of Islamic Guidance, Abbas Salehi.
CINVU operates a physical building in Iran and it is located within the Payame Noor University, a state university that runs mostly distance learning courses, as a subset of Iran’s Ministry of Sciences.
Under the unprompted presumption that the investigators, Jorjandi and Mahdavi, were in fact from pro-regime media, Ehteshami happily handed over, upon request, original and official Iranian translations of his own qualification from the Russian Institute for Dialogue of Cultures Interlingua, based in n the southwestern Russian city of Voronezh. Ehteshami, who calls himself Professor Ehteshami, claims his expertise is in “International Banking Systems.”
A number of staff of the institute are also Iranian. The head, Christopher H. Julai, claims to have previously been a lecturer at Ehteshami’s LMS.
The website of this Russian institute appears equally dubious. Indeed, the LMS is featured prominently across the institute’s website, appearing as a branch or partner organization, with the institute even claiming LMS can “accredit” its degrees.
The institute works to corroborate LMS’ lies, claiming the London “college” is:
The largest and most important MBA and DBA management training center in the UK and Europe. It has over 117 branches around the world. … This college … has graduated and trained more than 175,000 graduates and students from around the world.
FWI could not find public mention of a single graduate of LMS, with the sole exception of a couple of senior Iranian regime officials.
The college and CINVU have also been promoted by a number of Iranian media and regime institutions.
This system of Iranian regime-linked sham colleges is an international problem, with LMS’s own network claiming to extend to countries across the globe, from Gabon in Central Africa to Georgia and Azerbaijan in the Caucasus.
The Iranian regime has long used educational institutions in Europe and beyond, such as the Al Mustafa University system, as cover for its overseas activities and to spread Islamist ideas.
While the extraordinary amounts of capital claims by LMS (and its “International Banking Systems” expert head) appears the product of a fantasist filing deceitful company reports, legitimate questions arise as to why the Islamic Republic funds and works with this network of sham colleges around the world, and what purpose they may afford the regime’s interests. At the very least, it seems British authorities have plenty to investigate.
Potkin Azamehr is a London-based investigative journalist, business intelligence analyst, and TV documentary maker who was born in Iran.