Friday, November 13, 2009

Alavi Foundation Is the Iranian Regime's Front

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The Alavi Foundation, part owner of a 36-story New York office tower, is a front for the government of Iran, the U.S. government alleged in a lawsuit seeking to seize the building. The U.S. yesterday filed a new complaint in the 2008 lawsuit. The original case, which sought to seize the interest in the building held by ASSA Co., a company based in the U.K.’s Channel Islands, claimed the Iranian government’s Bank Melli co- owned the building through ASSA. The new complaint seeks to seize the Alavi Foundation’s interest in 650 Fifth Avenue as well, along with accounts and property the Alavi Foundation owns in New York, Maryland, Virginia, Texas and California. “The Alavi Foundation has effectively been a front for the government of Iran,” U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara said in a statement. “For two decades, the Alavi Foundation’s affairs have been directed by various Iranian officials, including Iranian ambassadors at the United Nations, in violation of a series of U.S. laws.” The foundation, which has offices in New York, didn’t return a call seeking comment yesterday. Last year, the president of the foundation, Farhsid Jahedi, was arrested and accused by U.S. prosecutors of destroying documents. The case is pending. Jahedi denies the charges. The Alavi Foundation is a successor to one created in the 1970s by the late Shah Mohammed Reza Pahlavi. Pahlavi was overthrown as that country’s leader in 1979. The building was constructed in 1979 by the Pahlavi Foundation, a nonprofit group set up by the Shah.

The building’s office tenants include Citigroup Inc., Starwood Hotels & Resorts Worldwide Inc., the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation and MBIA Inc., according to telephone listings and, a real estate information service run by Yale Robbins Inc. The building’s retail tenants include apparel store Juicy Couture, according to that company’s Web site. Ivan Boesky, the stock-market arbitrager who pleaded guilty to conspiracy in 1987 and paid a $100 million fine, maintained an office on 650 Fifth Avenue’s 35th floor in the 1980s, according to a 1987 article in the New York Times. At the time, the fine was the largest levied for a securities law violation. Some tenants of the foundation’s properties are Islamic centers and schools, according to phone listings. “No action has been taken against any tenants or occupants of those properties,” Yusill Scribner, a spokesman for Bharara, said in an e-mailed statement. “There are no allegations of any wrongdoing on the part of any of these tenants or occupants.” Daniel Ruzumna, a lawyer for the Alavi Foundation, didn’t immediately return a call seeking comment. Iran, the world’s second-biggest holder of oil and natural- gas reserves, is subject to various U.S. sanctions over the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction. The case is U.S. v. All Right, Title and Interest of Assa Corp., 1:08-cv-10934, U.S. District Court, Southern District of New York (Manhattan).