US says it is ready to seize Iranian-American skyscraper in New York

Jury found the Alavi Foundation had violated economic sanctions against Iran

Caroline Mortimer
Friday 30 June 2017 21:35 BST
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US officials are preparing to seize the 36-storey tower
US officials are preparing to seize the 36-storey tower (REUTERS)

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The US government has announced it is ready to seize a New York skyscraper owned by an Iranian-American charity after a jury found it had violated economic sanctions against Iran.

Acting US Attorney Joon H Kim said the owners of the charity which is designed to help victims of terrorism “gave the Iranian government a critical foothold in the very heart of Manhattan through which Iran successfully circumvented U.S. economic sanctions.”

“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 funnelled to Iran in clear violation of U.S. sanctions laws,” Mr Kim said in a statement. “In this trial, 650 Fifth Avenue’s secret was laid bare for all to see, and today’s jury verdict affirms what we have been alleging since 2008.”

But lawyers for the Alavi Foundation argued that the charity was unaware if Iran was secretly benefiting from a partner who owned 40 percent of the building near Rockefeller Center in Manhattan. The Alavi Foundation owns 60 percent.

The charity is likely to appeal the civil court verdict.

Mr Kim said the sale of the building, combined with several other properties around the country, would represent the largest terrorism-related civil forfeiture in US history.

The prosecutor said the verdict “allows for substantial recovery for victims of Iran-sponsored terrorism.”

The building is believed to be worth at least half a billion doors, though some estimates have suggested it could be worth considerably more.

The government is seeking to turn over proceeds of a sale to holders of over $5bn (£3.8bn) in terrorism-related judgments against the government of Iran, including claims brought by the estates of victims killed in the 11 September, 2001, attacks.

In another statement, Alavi Foundation attorney John Gleeson said: “The Alavi Foundation is disappointed by today’s verdict and by the court’s decision in the related cases and is considering its options.”

Additional reporting by AP

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