US lawyer: US entitled to seize Iran-tainted skyscraper

By LARRY NEUMEISTERMarketsAssociated Press

A U.S. government lawyer told jurors Monday that a monthlong trial has revealed the secret long-time owner of a Manhattan skyscraper: Iran.

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Assistant U.S. Attorney Michael Lockard expressed confidence that the government had proven through witness testimony, documents and other evidence in Manhattan federal court that the Alavi Foundation must give up its 60 percent stake in the 36-story office tower near Rockefeller Center.

He said Iran's secret ownership of the building and Alavi's complicity in a conspiracy to hide what was really going on has violated sanctions imposed by the U.S. against Iran for the last 22 years.

"You've seen that secret laid bare," Lockard said.

But attorney John Gleeson, representing Alavi, belittled the government's certainty over the building's history when he took his turn before the jury.

He said the U.S. government launched a biased investigation of Alavi from the start with conclusions reached well before it had collected the facts.

It was certain that Alavi had violated sanctions against Iran that were imposed in 1995, Gleeson said.

Anyone who disputed that scenario "was not telling the truth," he said the government concluded.

"Blend everything together, paint everything, everyone, with the same brush," Gleeson said of the government's approach.

As early as Tuesday, the jury will begin deciding whether Alavi violated sanctions and if it did, whether it must surrender all, some or none of its stake in the skyscraper.

A large but mostly silent presence in the courtroom are lawyers representing victims of terrorism, including the estates of victims killed in the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks.

The U.S. government plans to turn over proceeds from a sale of the building and other properties to holders of more than $5 billion in terrorism-related judgments against the government of Iran.

The government also is seeking the forfeiture of buildings in Houston; Carmichael, California; Catharpin, Virginia; and Rockville, Maryland, that are owned by the foundation, which was formed in the 1970s by then Iranian leader Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, who was overthrown in 1979.

Gleeson has said the Alavi Foundation's charity has spent millions of dollars over several decades to promote the history and culture of Iran, including through the Islamic Institute of New York and a high school in Queens attended by 300 students from 30 countries.