Government says foundation is front for Iran


WASHINGTON (JTA) — The U.S. government is moving to seize four mosques and a skyscraper owned by a nonprofit Muslim group that federal prosecutors charge is controlled by Iran’s government.

In a civil complaint filed in federal court Thursday, the U.S. sought to seize more than $500 million in assets controlled by the Alavi Foundation, according to media reports. That included Islamic centers in New York City, Maryland, California and Houston, 100 acres of property in Virgnia and a 36-story building on Fifth Avenue in New York City.

Prosecutors called the Alavi foundation a front for Iran. They charged that through a company called Assa Corp, Alavi illegally funnelled millions in rental income from the U.S. to Iran’s state-owned Bank Melli. The complaint also alleges that several top Iranian government officials, including the deputy prime minister and U.N. ambassadors, are involved with Alavi.

Such holdings are illegal under laws sanctioning Iran.

The Alavi Foundation was the successor to the Pahlavi Foundation, a nonprofit organization set up by the late Shah of Iran in the 1970s whose mission changed after the Shah’s overthrow.

The mosques and office building will remain open during the legal procededing, and there were no raids of the property as part of the court filing. Experts said it was rare that the government had attempted to seize a house of worship.

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