Judge approves forfeiture of NYC skyscraper "secretly owned" by Iran

People walk by The Piaget Building at 650 5th Avenue, which has been named as being owned by the Iranian government, on November 13, 2009, in New York City. Getty Images

NEW YORK A judge has issued a opinion calling for the forfeiture of a Midtown Manhattan office building because it is secretly owned and controlled by the Iranian government, prosecutors announced Tuesday.

U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara announced the decision in favor of his office's claims for forfeiture of 650 Fifth Avenue, a 36-story office building near Rockefeller Center, reports WCBS in New York.

Prosecutors said the building is operated by two companies which serve as fronts for the government of Iran, the Alavi Foundation and Assa Corp.

The Alavi Foundation has been providing numerous services to the Iranian government, including managing the building for the Iranian government, running a charitable organization for the Iranian government, and transferring funds from 650 Fifth Avenue Company to Bank Melli Iran, a bank wholly owned and controlled by the government of Iran, prosecutors said in a statement.

The judge determined the companies violated the Iranian Transactions Regulations under the International Emergency Economic Powers Act (IEEPA) and federal money laundering statutes.

"The Judge's opinion upholds what was the contention of this Office from outset: 'Assa was (and is) a front for Bank Melli, and thus a front for the Government of Iran.' The Judge's ruling that Alavi and Assa committed IEEPA and money laundering violations paves the way for the largest-ever terrorism-related forfeiture, and provides a means of compensating victims of Iranian-sponsored terrorism," Bharara said in a statement.

The original complaint was filed by the U.S. Attorney's office in 2008.

According to the U.S. Attorney's office, the building was constructed in the 1970s by the Pahlavi Foundation, a non-profit organization operated by the Shah of Iran to pursue Iran's charitable interests in the United States. A substantial loan from Bank Melli financed the construction of the building, prosecutors said.

Iranian government officials were involved in the decision to convert Bank Melli's mortgage on the building into a partnership interest in 650 Fifth Avenue Company in the late 1980s, according to prosecutors.

The FBI, the IRS, the NYPD and the Joint Terrorism Task Force were all part of the investigation.


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