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Family Out of Luck in Iranian Office Forfeiture

MANHATTAN (CN) - Just a few months have passed since a federal judge cleared a path for families of U.S. terror victims to divvy up the proceeds from the seizure of an Iran-linked office building.

Federal prosecutors had seized the 36-story building, located on 625 5th Ave., in 2008 after alleging that it broke an embargo against Iran through its ties to the Islamic Republic's central bank.

U.S. courts held previously Iran liable for multiple terrorist attacks and ordered compensation to the victims, but it was unclear whether the debtor nation would pay the judgments.

The victims' families tried to break the impasse by seizing the Midtown office building, and they celebrated a victory earlier this year when U.S. District Judge Katherine Forrest found that, in principle, they had the right to do so.

But Forrest found Monday that one family in particular - the widow and children of a slain U.S. Agency for International Development (U.S. AID) worker Charles Hegna - ultimately could not execute that right.

That family's judgment lien had expired and cannot be extended, the judge said.

"I was disappointed," Steven Kessler, who represents the Hegna family, said in a phone interview. "I find this decision quite unfortunate."

Hegna was a passenger of a 1984 Kuwait Airlines flight bound for Karachi that Hezbollah militants diverted to Tehran. Hezbollah murdered the 50-year-old auditor inside Iran's capital that year, and his family fought for decades to hold the country's government accountable.

In 2000, a federal judge found Iran and its Ministry of Information and Security liable for Hegna's death as supporters of Hezbollah.

Kessler said that Hegna's family was the "first on line" to seek compensation against Iran, and they have been at it for more than 20 years.

Their judgment lien expired, however, because of longstanding legal barriers in their collection efforts, according to the ruling. Iranian property had been immune from attachment before the family convinced Congress to repeal the exception in 2008. The other hurdle stemmed from Iran's litigation against the United States before an international tribunal, Forrest noted.

Kessler said he will likely appeal.

A lawyer for the property did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

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