An Iranian exile who served close to the Ayatollah Ali Khamenei has revealed details of the private life of the supreme leader of the Islamic Republic. British newspaper Daily Telegraph reported Thursday that the Iranian leader maintains six palaces, enjoys caviar and hoards a fine range of collectibles.
In recent years, much information has been leaked regarding Khamenei, now 70, partly due to the defection of three senior intelligence figures to the west. These defectors have spoken of Khamenei's private businesses which invest around the world, including in European companies and international markets. However, little has been known of his private life.
According to the report, an Iranian exile living in hiding in France claimed that Khamenei is particularly partial to caviar. He also said that the Ayatollah, who has controlled Iran for 20 years, suffers from regular bouts of depression and enjoys vulgar jokes.
The exile, who has come under the protection of Iranian opposition activists living in France, also spoke of the Ayatollah's love of collecting. Apparently, the leader has a collection of around 170 walking sticks and more than 100 thoroughbred horses. His cloaks are said to be of fine camel hair.
The British newspaper noted that Khamenei has created an "imperial court" for himself that sprawls over six palaces, including Naviran, which served as the residence of the Shah in Tehran until the Islamic revolution of 1979. Two of these palaces, Naviran and Valikabad, are equipped with nuclear bunkers. The leader is protected by an elite corps in which about 200 security personnel serve.
Khamenei has ruled Iran since 1989, but his position has been undermined since the controversial presidential elections and the resulting riots that broke out last June.
This week the violence returned to Iranian streets, reaching a peak during Ashura, one of Shiite Islam's holiest days, and recent reports indicate that Khamenei's regime is cracking down on the opposition. The official Iranian news agency IRNA reported Wednesday that two opposition leaders, Mir Hossein Mousavi and Mehdi Karubi, had fled Tehran to the north.