A government bid to seize a 36-story midtown office tower that it claims is controlled by Iran and has been used to evade sanctions went to jurors in federal court in Manhattan on Wednesday afternoon.
U.S. District Judge Katherine Forrest finished instructing eight remaining jurors in the case after a four-week trial in which the Alavi Foundation, which holds the controlling interest in the partnership that owns 650 Fifth Ave., disputed claims that it was under Iran’s sway.
The building has an estimated value of nearly $1 billion. Alavi, founded by the Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi in the 1970s as a charitable entity to run Iranian-American schools and cultural programs, shares ownership with Assa Corp., but Alavi said it didn’t know for years that state-controlled Bank Melli was behind Assa.
If the government wins, it would compensate victims of Iran-linked terrorism, including victims of the bombings of U.S. Marine barracks in Beirut in 1983 and the Khobar Towers in Saudi Arabia in 1996. It would be the largest terrorism-related forfeiture ever, prosecutors said.
Lawyers for terror victims who have already won court judgments against Iran are also suing for the building, and Forrest has been hearing their case in a bench trial while jurors have heard the government’s claim, giving victims two potential routes to compensation.