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Iran's secret New York City skyscraper seized by US government

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650 Fifth Avenue
650 Fifth Avenue

The Iranian government has secretly owned and controlled an office building in the middle of New York City for years. Set on Fifth Avenue and close to Rockefeller Center, the 36-story skyscraper houses a number of businesses across its floors. The US government has won a judgement to seize the building, and plans to use the money to compensate "victims of Iranian-sponsored terrorism."

The skyscraper, 650 Fifth Avenue, was originally built in the 1970s by the Pahlavi Foundation, a nonprofit organization operated by the Shah of Iran at the time. Construction of the building was financed by a loan from Bank Melli, a bank controlled by the Iranian government. Following the Iranian Revolution, the loan was canceled in 1989 and 40 percent of the ownership was transferred to the Assa Corporation, while the Alavi Foundation (formerly known as the Pahlavi Foundation) controls 60 percent. The US alleges that the Assa Corporation is a front company, set up in the UK's Channel Islands, to launder money back to Iran.

Rental income transferred back to Tehran

The co-owners allegedly transferred rental income to Bank Melli and the Iranian government. For nearly five years, the US government has been trying to seize the building in what it describes as "the largest-ever terrorism-related forfeiture." The Alavi Foundation plans to appeal the ruling. "We have reviewed the decision and disagree with the court’s analysis of the facts and the law," says the organization in a statement. "The Foundation intends to appeal the court’s decision once final judgment is entered."