The U.S. Can Now Seize a $500 Million Manhattan Skyscraper From the Iranian Government

Cha-ching.

650 Fifth Avenue, pictured center, has been found to be a front for the Iranian government.
National Journal
Brian Resnick
See more stories about...
Brian Resnick
Sept. 18, 2013, 7:25 a.m.

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 court’s sum­mary:

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 »
11 HOUSE MEMBERS NOW BEHIND HIM
Two Committee Chairs Endorse Trump
6 hours ago
WHY WE CARE

Two powerful House members—Transportation and Infrastructure Committee Chairman Bill Shuster (R-PA) and Veterans Affairs Committee Chair Jeff Miller (R-FL)—are throwing their support behind Donald Trump.

Source:
BUT WOULD HE THROW THE CHAIR?
Bobby Knight: Trump Would Drop the Bomb Just Like Truman
6 hours ago
THE LATEST
LAST PLACE
Trump Still Struggling for Endorsements
9 hours ago
WHY WE CARE
AT ISSUE: VENEZUELA SANCTIONS
Deal Struck to Confirm Ambassador to Mexico
11 hours ago
WHY WE CARE

"The United States is finally about to get an ambassador to Mexico. Senate Republicans who have been negotiating a way to confirm Roberta Jacobson as the nation’s top diplomat to Mexico have reached the contours of an agreement that would allow Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL)—Jacobson’s chief obstacle—to secure renewed sanctions against Venezuela in exchange for lifting his objections."

Source:
THE QUESTION
How Much Is Cleveland Paying for ‘Protest Insurance’ for the GOP Convention?
11 hours ago
THE ANSWER

Ten million dollars, plus another $1.5 million for the broker who will "develop and obtain" the policy. The concern: mass protests could lead to mass arrests, which could then lead to civil rights claims against the city.

Source:
×