Society

Justice Dept. Seizes Manhattan Building that was “Secretly Owned by Iran”

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The United States Justice Department has seized a 36-story Manhattan tower after officials learned it was secretly owned by the Iranian government, who allegedly used it to launder money, the Atlantic Wire reports.

A U.S. District Court has ruled that the building's owners were “a front for the Iranian government.” This would place the owners in violation of economic sanctions that prevent them from doing business in the U.S.

The ruling now allows the DOJ to seize bank accounts and other properties that belong to the building’s owner and use them to pay back victims who have standing judgments against the Iranian government.

U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara said the ruling “paves the way for the largest-ever terrorism-related forfeiture.”

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The building is 650 Fifth Avenue in Manhattan, which was built in the 1970s by the Pahlavi Foundation, named after Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, the former Shah of Iran. Pahlavi was installed by the U.S. but then overthrown during the Iranian Revolution. The building was seized by the new Iranian government and has been transferred over to several  shell corporations and bank entities.

In 2008, the Justice Department said it was found the Iranian national bank, Bank Melli, held 40 percent of the ownership of the building.

Owners of the building have also been accused of money laundering offenses, including giving their rental income to Bank Melli. The judge’s ruling states that the building’s owner was actively “providing services to assist Iran by shielding and concealing Iranian assets.”

Source: The Atlantic Wire