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For the past few years, the federal government has claimed that the tower at 650 Fifth Avenue, owned by nonprofit the Alavi Foundation, is controlled by the Iranian government, which would violate U.S. sanctions. Since the court decision that allowed the government to seize the 36-story building was overruled last year, a trial has kicked off again this week to determine if the organization was funneling money to Iran. As reported by amNY, the government must prove the office tower, worth just under $1 billion, is a front for the Iranian government and will do so using emails, letters and journal entries from an Alavi board member.
The Alavi Foundation was founded by the Shah of Iran in the 1970s with the goal of supporting Iranian-American cultural and educational programs. The foundation currently holds a 60 percent stake in the building, with the other 40 percent owned by Assa Corp., until it was taken over by the U.S. after it was proven to be controlled by Iran-owned Bank Melli.
Alavi’s lawyer, John Gleeson, told the jury on Tuesday, that the nonprofit is legitimate and focuses on promoting Persian culture. He said, “This misguided case is looking to wipe us off the face of the planet, the U.S., and put an end to all the good things we do.”
According to Gleeson, Alavai took a loan for construction from Bank Melli, later converting the borrowed money to an ownership stake, which was then transferred to Assa Corp. before the sanctions were imposed. While Gleeson said the nonprofit had its suspicions, Alavi never knew Assa was backed by the Iranian government. The jurors in the Manhattan federal court will decide the fate of the Midtown office building during the trial, which may last weeks.
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Neighborhoods : Midtown