Today saw the announcement by Justice Department officials that the 36-storey office building located at 650 5th Avenue in Midtown Manhattan would be seized in what will be the “largest-ever terrorism-related forfeiture.”
Building owners funneled rent payments
Prosecutors contend that the building’s owners funneled rent payments to the Iranian state-run Bank Melli in direct violation of current sanctions put in place to put a halt to Iran’s nuclear ambitions. Iran denies that its nuclear program is being used to weaponize enriched uranium, while the U.S. government believes, well, not that.
Manhattan Federal Prosecutor Preet Bharara said Alavi and its co-owner, the Assa Corporation, operated as a “front for Bank Melli, and thus a front for the government of Iran,” AFP reported.
Mr Bharara said funds from selling the 36-storey structure would provide “a means of compensating victims of Iranian-sponsored terrorism.”
Shah of Iran financed the building
The building was constructed in the 1970’s using a Bank Melli loan provided by a NGO run by the Shah of Iran prior to him being deposed in Iran’s 1979 Islamic Revolution. The justice department claims that following the Shah’s removal, his NGO was expropriated and renamed the Alavi Foundation. Prosecutors also believe that Alavi ran the building under direct guidance from Tehran.
U.S. District Judge Katherine Forrest said money transfers to Bank Melli made by Assa breached laws on money laundering.
“There is substantial, uncontradicted evidence that Assa is owned and controlled by Bank Melli, and that Bank Melli is wholly owned and controlled by Iran,” Ms Forrest said.
Alavi’s board was well aware
Judge Forrest ruled that the board of Alavi was well aware of this arrangement with Iran and that a trial would amount to no more than a waste of time and money while accusing Alavi of “collective amnesia.”
“The foundation was ready for trial and is disappointed that it did not have the opportunity to rebut the government evidence before a jury,” Alavi said in an a statement on its website.
While Iran may be happy to see that things have cooled down in Syria, they are certain to take issue with this latest move by the justice department to enforce sanctions.