MANHATTAN (CN) - The federal government has seized a 36-story office building at 650 5th Ave., alleging its owners engaged in prohibited economic transactions with Iran, and ran the place under instructions from an Iranian bank.
The government seized the building under the International Emergency Economic Powers Act and Iranian Transaction Regulations, according to the federal complaint.
The building owner, 650 Fifth Avenue Co., is a partnership between the Alavi Foundation and Bank Melli Iran. Bank Melli owns 40% of the Fifth Avenue Co. through two shell companies, Assa Corp. and Assa Co. Ltd., prosecutors say.
Defendant Assa Corp. is accused of "providing numerous services to Bank Melli in contravention of the ITRs including transferring rental income generated from the Fifth Avenue Company to Bank Melli, following Bank Melli's instructions with regard to Assa Corp.'s affairs, reporting back to Bank Melli on Assa Corp.'s financial situation and business dealings, and managing the affairs of Assa Corp. for the benefit of Bank Melli," according to the complaint.
The Shah of Iran built the building in the 1970s through The Pahlavi Foundation "to pursue Iran's charitable interests in the United States," the complaint states. Bank Melli loaned the Foundation $42 million to build the building. After the revolution of 1979, the Pahlavi Foundation was renamed the Mostazafan Foundation of New York, then renamed again as the Alavi Foundation of New York. A "substantial portion" of Alavi's income comes from rents on the building.
Prosecutors also seized several bank accounts, alleging money laundering and tax dodges.