Who’s the worst landlord in New York City? Possibly the guys whose building functions as a massive Iranian money-laundering operation.
U.S. District Judge Katherine B. Forrest ruled today that the owners of 650 Fifth Avenue, a 36-story building near the Rockefeller Center in Midtown Manhattan, used the property to launder money for the government of Iran. Though open to appeal, the ruling authorizes the federal government to seize the tower and donate the seizure’s profits to the families of Americans harmed by terrorist attacks aided by Iran. If uncontested, the seizure would be the “largest-ever terrorism-related forfeiture,” according to U.S. District Attorney Preet Bharara.
Forrest’s 82-page opinion asserts that the building’s landlords—the Assa Corporation, the Alavi Foundation, and the 650 Fifth Ave. Company—used a shell corporation domiciled in the Channel Islands to conceal a 40% stake owned by the national bank of Iran—a violation of the International Emergency Economic Powers Act, under which the U.S. government enforces certain trade sanctions against the country for its involvement in several terrorist attacks on U.S. soil.
The original complaint against the landlords, filed in 2008, singled out an Iranian citizen named Mohammad Hassan Dehghani Tafti as the only actual employee of the Assa Corporation, the building’s majority stakeholder. Tafti, who refused to testify, reportedly served as a messenger between Iran’s national bank, to which he shuttled rent profits collected by Assa and the other landlords.
The defendants apparently offered several dubious explanations regarding their involvement with Iran—at one point, they contested the English translation of several documents written in Farsi—which failed to convince the court.