Judge: Iran-Backed Company Behind NYC Office Tower

NEW YORK (AP) -

A Manhattan office tower is subject to forfeiture because revenues from it were secretly funneled to a state-owned Iranian bank in violation of a U.S. trade embargo, a judge ruled Monday.

U.S. District Judge Katherine Forrest made the forfeiture finding in Manhattan, ruling in a case brought by the U.S. government in 2008. The government had said the Alavi Foundation’s sole partner in the ownership of the 36-story Fifth Avenue building was a shell company fronting for a secret interest held by the Iran’s state-owned Bank Melli.

The judge agreed that monetary transfers by the shell company, Assa Co., to Bank Melli violated money laundering statutes. She rejected Alavi’s “core defense,” that a jury should decide whether the foundation knew that Assa was controlled by Iran between 1995, when providing services to Iran became illegal, and the date of the lawsuit. She said that many of the Alavi board members who were indisputably involved in the creation of Assa as a front for Bank Melli in 1989 remained with or returned to positions with Alavi after 1995.