The Manhattan building known as 650 Fifth Avenue looks innocent enough. It’s an unadorned brown-and-glass rectangle, amounting to a modest 36 floors. It does, however, boast a newly redesigned lobby and a new “outdoor esplanade to better serve its tenants and environment.” There’s an ongoing $11 million improvement project to the facility. It’s probably not a bad place to work, considering the landlord.
Tuesday, a federal court found the building to be a 36-story front for the Iranian government. The building was built in the ‘70s by a nonprofit operated by the shah of Iran, who was overthrown in 1979. In the ensuing years, the Justice Department argues, the Iranian government came to own it through two shell companies. Today, Iran’s national bank, Bank Melli, owns 40 percent of the building through a front called Assa Corp. The other 60 percent is owned by the Alavi Foundation, which is alleged to be controlled by the Iranian government.
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 (“Bank Melli”), a bank wholly owned and controlled by the Government of Iran.
This violates Washington’s severe economic sanctions against Iran and paves the way for the U.S. to seize the building. According to the U.S. attorney who brought suit, the money from the sale will be used to provide “a means of compensating victims of Iranian-sponsored terrorism.”
The Justice Department actually does this sort of thing all the time. Recently, The New Yorker reported that the department seized a record $4.2 billion worth of assets last year (that article provides the most-comprehensive explanation of how civil forfeiture works in the U.S. The building’s owners actually need not to be convicted of anything for the government to seize the property; a judge finding it was connected to a crime is reason enough.)
The investigation into the 5th Avenue skyscraper has been going on since at least 2009, according to Enemies Within: Inside the NYPD’s Secret Spying Unit and bin Laden’s Final Plot Against America, a book written by two AP reporters.
“The FBI believed it was a front for the Iranian government,” the authors wrote. “Based on that casework, the U.S. Justice Department was preparing to confiscate Alavi’s $600 million building on Fifth Avenue, which would be one of the biggest counterterrrorism seizures in U.S. History.” USA Today reports the building could fetch between $500 million and $700 million.
The Alavi Foundation is disputing the claim.”We have reviewed the decision and disagree with the court’s analysis of the facts and the law,” a statement sent to multiple news outlets read. “The Foundation was ready for trial and is disappointed that it did not have the opportunity to rebut the Government evidence before a jury.”
What We're Following See More »
"Less than two weeks before Donald Trump accepted the Republican presidential nomination, his campaign chairman offered to provide briefings on the race to a Russian billionaire closely aligned with the Kremlin, according to people familiar with the discussions. Paul Manafort made the offer in an email to an overseas intermediary, asking that a message be sent to Oleg Deripaska, an aluminum magnate with whom Manafort had done business in the past, these people said. 'If he needs private briefings we can accommodate,' Manafort wrote in the July 7, 2016, email.
"The Federal Reserve left its benchmark interest rate unchanged and said Wednesday that it would begin to withdraw some of the trillions of dollars that it invested in the American economy after the 2008 financial crisis. The widely expected announcement reflected the Fed’s confidence in continued economic growth...most Fed officials predicted in a new round of economic forecasts that the Fed would increase rates later this year."
Special Counsel Robert Mueller "has asked the White House for documents about some of President Trump’s most scrutinized actions since taking office, including the firing of his national security adviser and F.B.I. director...Mueller is also interested in an Oval Office meeting Mr. Trump had with Russian officials in which he said the dismissal of the F.B.I. director had relieved 'great pressure' on him."