A New York jury has ruled that the U.S. government can seize a Manhattan skyscraper worth as much as $1 billion from an Iranian-American charitable foundation accused of violating sanctions against Iran.
The U.S. federal court on June 29 ruled that Alavi Foundation, the majority owner of the 36-story office building at 650 Fifth Ave., knew and helped hide the fact that the building's 40 percent partner, Assa Corp., was a front for the Iranian government.
Acting U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York Joon H. Kim said the 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."
He said the court ruling represented "the largest civil forfeiture jury verdict and the largest terrorism-related civil forfeiture in U.S. history” and would “allow for substantial recovery for victims of Iran-sponsored terrorism."
The U.S. government has said it wants to turn over the proceeds from a sale of the building to holders of more than $5 billion in terrorism-related judgments against Tehran.
Kim pegged the value of the building, built in 1978, at $500 million, although some estimates put it at double that amount.
The Alavi Foundation was likely to appeal the verdict, although lawyers did not immediately comment after the ruling.
The Alavi Foundation's lawyers argued that the charity was unaware Iran was secretly benefiting from the participation of Assa Corp in the ownership of the building.
The lawyers maintained that the foundation used funds to support schools, health care, and higher education, along with promoting the study of Persian culture, language, art, literature, and civilization.
The Alavi Foundation was founded during the reign of the shah of Iran. After the 1979 Islamic Revolution that ousted the shah, Iran's conservative Islamic government replaced much of Alavi's board of directors.
With reporting by AP and Reuters