A federal judge has ruled that a 36-story Fifth Avenue office building run by a company acting as front for an Iranian bank to avoid the Iranian trade embargo is subject to forfeiture. On the eve of trial, Southern District Judge Katherine Forrest (See Profile) granted summary judgment to the government in its bid to seize the property of Assa Corp., a Channel Island company, for violations of the U.S. trade embargo and federal money laundering laws by fronting for the Iranian Bank Melli. Also part of the judge's order is the Alavi Foundation, a partner with Assa in the building at 650 Fifth Avenue.
Forrest said all of the assets in the case of In re 650 Fifth Avenue and Related Properties, 08-cv-10934, are subject to forfeiture with the exception of seven, Alavi-only controlled properties that the judge severed from the case. In an opinion following a Sept. 12 oral ruling, Forrest said "based on the uncontroverted record evidence, Assa was, (and is) a front for Bank Melli, and thus a front for the Government of Iran." Alavi had argued there remained an open question on whether it knew Assa was controlled by Iran between 1995, when providing services to Iran became illegal, and the 2008 filing of the lawsuit. But Forrest said, "Its premise is implausible" and she accepted the government's characterization of that defense as a form of "collective amnesia."
Assistant U.S. Attorneys Sharon Levin, Michael Lockard, Martin Bell and Carolina Fornos and Special Assistant U.S. Attorney Anand Sithian represent the government. Peter Livingston of Rose & Livingston and Donald Luke of Jaffe & Asher represent Assa. Daniel Ruzumna and Melissa Ginsberg of Patterson Belknap Webb & Tyler represent Alavi and the partnership. They declined comment.