Following nine years of legal battle, the federal government can now seize a skyscraper in Midtown Manhattan that is linked to Iran, a jury found on Thursday.
The jury ruled in favor of the United States in its effort to seize 650 Fifth Avenue, of which the Alavi Foundation, an Iranian nonprofit foundation accused of violating U.S sanctions against Iran, controls 60 percent. The government accused the organization of money laundering through its partnership with Assa Corporation, a shell company for an Iran-owned bank that owns the other 40 percent of the building.
“For over a decade, hiding in plain sight, this 36-story Manhattan office tower secretly served as a front for the Iranian government and as a gateway for millions of dollars to be funneled to Iran in clear violation of U.S. sanctions laws,” acting U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York Joon H. Kim said in a statement and covered by Patch New York.
The 36-story office building is in a prime location and is valued at more than $500 million. It brings in millions of dollars in rental income annually, and Nike had signed a 15-year contract to rent seven floors last year. It would be the largest terrorism-related civil forfeiture in U.S history, according to federal prosecutors. The government plans to sell the building and has also agreed to distribute the proceeds to the families of the victims of Iran-linked terrorist attacks (including September 11), as reported in the New York Times.
The government first took action in 2008 against Assa Corporation, and in 2009, prosecutors filed a complaint against Alavi, saying that it was directed by Iran’s supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. In 2013, Federal Judge Katherine B. Forrest ordered both Alavi and Assa to forfeit their shares, however, in 2016, Alavi’s case went back to trial on the grounds that it was unclear whether the nonprofit knew its partner was directly controlled by Iran.
The ruling last week saw the judge convinced that the nonprofit had taken “directives from Iranian government officials, and its day-to-day operators have been appointed by Iranian officials to ensure conformity with the interests of the government of Iran,” the Times reported.
Defense lawyers for Alavi are expected to appeal the decision.