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U.S. wins control of valuable office tower in Iran sanctions case

The U.S. government has won control of a

The U.S. government has won control of a building at 650 5th Avenue in New York in an Iran sanctions violation case that dated back a decade. The building is seen on May 30, 2017. Photo Credit: AP / Mary Altaffer

The government on Thursday won control of a 36-story midtown office tower after a Manhattan federal court jury ruled in its favor in an Iran sanctions violation case that dated back a decade.

The verdict on 650 Fifth Ave. followed a four-week trial in a hotly contested forfeiture claim against the Alavi Foundation, a charitable foundation established by the Shah in the 1970s that prosecutors said carefully hid its links to Iran’s government.

The building has an estimated value just under $1 billion, and the government called it the largest terrorism-related forfeiture ever. If the verdict survives an expected appeal the government plans to sell it and pass the proceeds to victims of Iran-linked terrorism.

Those in line include victims of the 1983 bombing of a Marine barracks in Beirut and the Khobar Towers bombing in Saudi Arabia in 1996, and a group of families of Sept. 11 victims who won a default judgment in a suit naming Iran in 2011.

“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 funneled to Iran in clear violation of U.S. sanctions laws,” said Acting U.S. Attorney Joon Kim. “In this trial, 650 Fifth Avenue’s secret was laid bare.”

Alavi, which holds the controlling interest in the partnership that owns 650 Fifth Ave., disputed claims that it was under Iran’s sway and said profits from the building were used for schools and Iranian-American cultural activities.

“The Alavi Foundation is disappointed by today’s verdict and . . . and is considering its options,” said its lawyer, John Gleeson.

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