Iran's Secret Skyscraper Was in the Heart Of NYC For Decades

A New York City skyscraper owned by the Iranian government since the 1970s has been seized by the United States government, which will send the money to "the victims of Iranian-sponsored terrorism." The building itself is estimated to be worth $500-700 million and according to U.S. District Attorney Preet Bharara, it would qualify as "the largest terrorism-related forfeiture" in U.S. history.

During the 1970s, the Pahlavi Foundation, a non-profit owned by Shah Mohammed Reza, built the skyscraper at 650 Fifth Avenue. It is close to Rockefeller Center. Iranian Bank Melli loaned approximately $40 million to the foundation to fund construction. Ten years after construction, Bank Melli cancelled the loan and a 40% stake was sold to the Assa Corporation, headquartered in the U.K.'s Channel Islands. The Pahlavi Foundation rebranded itself and became the Alavi Foundation. It kept a majority stake in the building. The U.S. government claims that Assa is a shell company laundering money for the Iranian government, and estimates that Assa collected up to $39 million in rental income from companies such as Citigroup, MetLife Insurance, and Godiva Chocolatier.

The federal government filed the original complaint in 2008, despite that the Iranian government owned the building for years without the U.S. knowing about it. The irony is that in spite of crippling sanctions imposed on Iran by Washington, the Fifth Avenue building remained under the radar until five years ago, making money hand over fist. Assa was charged with money laundering and violating the International Emergency Economic Powers Act, which restricts commerce against countries deemed to be threatening to American security interests. Iran has been on the list since the 1979 hostage crisis.

The Alavi Foundation released a statement expressing its disappointment with the ruling and that it plans to appeal the decision once it's formally announced.

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Frank Lopapa

Graduate of the John C. Whitehead School of Diplomacy and International Relations, specializing in International Security and Global Negotiation and Conflict Management. Guest contributor to international affairs magazine Diplomatic Courier. When not writing about security issues for Policy Mic, I cover Italian soccer for Forza Italian Football, among other places.

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