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Jury Verdict Could Lead to Largest-Ever Terrorism-Related Forfeiture

650 Fifth Ave. 650 Fifth Ave.

NEW YORK CITY—A federal jury ruling on Thursday will pave the way for what the U.S. government believes could be the largest ever terrorism-related civil forfeiture that could total well in excess of $500 million.

The U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District announced a federal jury ruled in its favor against the Alvai Foundation, and co-owner Assa Corp. of the 36-story 650 Fifth Ave. office, also known as the Piaget Building. According to court documents, the Alvai Foundation owns 60% of 650 Fifth Ave., while Assa Corp. owns the remaining 40%.

The federal government has charged the Alvai Foundation and Assa Corp. acted on behalf of the Iranian government by participating in money laundering and providing other assistance to the Iranian government in circumventing U.S. sanctions. The case was originally filed in December 2008 against Assa Corp. and amended in November 2009 to include the Alvai Foundation.

Attorneys for the federal government and for the Alvai Foundation argued before the federal jury earlier this month. The case went to trail after the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals overturned a ruling by US District Court Judge Katherine B. Forrest that allowed the federal government to seize 650 Fifth Ave. and real properties owned by the Alvai Foundation in Queens, NY, Maryland, Virginia, Texas and California. The appeals court ruling sent the case back for a jury trial.

Acting U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York Joon H. Kim said of the jury’s verdict in a prepared statement, “For over a decade, hiding in plain sight, this 36-story Manhattan office tower secretly served as a front for the Iranian government and as a gateway for millions of dollars to be funneled to Iran in clear violation of US sanctions laws. In this trial, 650 Fifth Avenue’s secret was laid bare for all to see, and today’s jury verdict affirms what we have been alleging since 2008: that through all the efforts to sanction and isolate Iran, a state sponsor of terrorism, the owners of 650 Fifth Avenue gave the Iranian government a critical foothold in the very heart of Manhattan through which Iran successfully circumvented U.S. economic sanctions.”

He added the 650 Fifth Avenue building is valued at more than $500 million, and when combined with the other real estate and funds that are now subject to forfeiture, makes it potentially the largest terrorist-related civil forfeiture in U.S. history.

The law firm of Debevoise & Plimpton, which represented the Alvai Foundation in the federal court case, had no comment on the jury verdict when contacted by Globest.com. According to a Reuters report in late May, John Gleeson, a partner with Debevoise & Plimpton, argued on behalf of Alvai Foundation before the federal jury that the foundation is a not-for-profit that promotes Islamic culture and also provides cultural services. According to its website, the foundation has donated more than $50 million to charitable causes in the United States since 1973.

Gleeson argued in federal court that the foundation entered into an ownership agreement with Assa to reduce its tax burden before the US imposed sanctions against Iran in the mid 1990s and therefore did not do anything improper, according to the Reuters report.

In April 2014, the federal government reached a settlement agreement with the holders of terrorist-related court judgments against the government of Iran in connection with properties found to have been forfeited by entities that served as fronts for the Iranian government. The settlement involved 19 of the 20 judgment creditors at the time that included families and estates of victims of the 1983 terrorist bombings of the US Marine Corps’ barracks in Beirut, the 1996 terrorist bombing of the Khobar Towers in Saudi Arabia, as well as the terrorist attacks in Israel and elsewhere. Under the settlement agreement, the properties would be sold by the U.S. Marshal’s office and the net proceeds of those sales distributed among the judgment creditors.

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