Envirocare founder Khosrow Semnani radiates faith

Published: Saturday, Sept. 17 2011 11:00 p.m. MDT

However, after Semnani agreed in 2004 to sell Envirocare to the conglomerate that became EnergySolutions for an undisclosed sum that industry observers estimated to be at least $500 million, he literally disappeared from the headlines.

The Semnani that has emerged from those years away from the public square seems a different man, intent on crafting a new legacy. Most notably, he launched Omid for Iran, an advocacy group seeking constitutional democracy in Semnani's Iranian homeland, and founded and funds Maliheh Free Clinic, which provides free medical services to poor and uninsured patients in South Salt Lake. (The Semnani Family Foundation donated $189,500 to Maliheh in 2010 and $187,800 so far in 2011.)

Koz, as his friends and family know him, has also partnered with the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints to send aid abroad to natural-disaster victims. Earlier this month, his foundation donated $125,000 to LDS Humanitarian Services for famine relief in Somalia and Somali refugee camps. Additionally, last year the Semnani Family Foundation donated $20,000 to LDS Humanitarian Services for earthquake relief in Haiti.

"The one thing that has always impressed me about Koz is he never expects any acknowledgement for what he does," said KSL radio host Doug Wright, a member of Maliheh Free Clinic's advisory board. "As a matter of fact, often he's uncomfortable with it and often he's even a little embarrassed by it.

"I know with his deep religious beliefs, he strongly believes that the things you do for good here on earth should be things that perhaps are only between you and your god — and I love him for that."

It's another beautiful summer day in Salt Lake City, but Khosrow Semnani sits silently in his office and broods. He has a lot on his mind as he pores over policy solutions to societal quagmires like healthcare for the poor.

His ground-floor office looks out onto a lush residential neighborhood near the Masonic Temple on 2nd South. Semnani takes his tea in a maroon Envirocare coffee mug, not out of nostalgia but simply because there were so many mugs lying around when he left the company he founded.

Behind his desk he proudly displays framed photographs of his two teenage sons (he also has an older son who attends law school), as well as two miniature flags standing side-by-side: emblems of the U.S. and Iran.

Semnani is a naturalized U.S. citizen who never shies away from a chance to explain that he is living proof of the American dream. Yet, part of his heart will always be in Iran. For that reason, he started Omid for Iran (translated, it means "Hope for Iran"). Advocating for the overarching goal of a constitutional democracy, he met twice with Pres. George W. Bush to discourage the U.S. from attacking Iran's burgeoning nuclear facilities (the radiation from such an attack could incur thousands of civilian deaths), and he has penned several op-ed pieces for newspapers.

Omid for Iran's biggest success to date happened April 26 when Gov. Gary Herbert signed the Bonds of Friendship with Iran Resolution that Utah's House and Senate passed unanimously during the 2011 legislative session. The resolution "declares that the people of Utah stand with the Iranian people in their struggle for freedom, justice, peace, and prosperity for Iran; and calls on the United States Government, the international community, and the Islamic world to support the Iranian people by defending their democratic rights."

Painful memories persist from the Green Revolution of 2009, which ended in violence after the Iranian government murdered peaceful demonstrators. And yet, Semnani is pushing hard to mobilize Iranian-Americans and, vis-a-vis Omid for Iran, catalyze a bona fide democratic constitution. Although it may be years in the making, his determined faith leads him to believe that the aim is attainable.

Kaveh Ehsani, an international studies professor at DePaul University and co-editor of the journal Middle East Report, forecasts what the road to democracy will entail for Iran.

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