STEVE INSKEEP, host:
The U.S. government has moved to seize control of a skyscraper. The skyscraper is in Manhattan, and its owned by businesses long-suspected of being fronts for the government of Iranian. Youll recall the U.S. has economic sanctions against Iran. The government has also moved to seize a number of bank accounts in the United States and four mosques. The total value of these assets could be as much as half a billion dollars. NPRs Mike Shuster has more.
MIKE SHUSTER: The two Iranian businesses under suspicion are the Alavi Foundation and the Assa Corporation. Together, they own the skyscraper at 650 5th Avenue. It was built by the government of the shah of Iran in the 1970s and passed into the control of the current government of Iran after the Islamic Revolution of 1979. The foundation owns 60 percent of the building, and the Assa Corporation owns the rest.
The U.S. government initiated the action to seize the building nearly a year ago in a civil complaint that focused mainly on the Assa Corporation. Shortly after that, the president of the Alavi Foundation was arrested and charged with obstruction of justice for allegedly destroying documents connected to the case. Now, in an amended complaint, the U.S. is seeking complete forfeiture of the skyscraper plus four mosques in New York, Maryland, California and Texas, 100 acres of property in Virginia and the contents of the nine bank accounts.
The U.S. Attorneys office in New York would not provide an estimate of how much money is held in those accounts. It is extremely rare for the U.S. government to take an action like this against a house of worship. The Justice Department believes it has a legal basis for these actions because it is alleged that the Alavi Foundation and Assa Corporation both cooperate with the government of Iran, and specifically with Bank Melli of Iran.
Bank Melli is one of Iran's largest banks and is under sanctions imposed by the U.S. because it has allegedly aided in financing Iran's nuclear and missile programs. The Justice Department says the two Iranian businesses have for years illegally transferred millions of dollars in rent from the building to the government of Iran.
Simultaneously yesterday, President Obama took formal action to extend U.S. sanctions on Iran for one more year, an action American presidents have taken every year since 1979.
The U.S. Attorney's Office in New York says the 5th Avenue building as well as the mosques will remain open while the U.S. pursues the case in court.
Mike Shuster, NPR News.
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