Iran blasts US for seizure of New York skyscraper owned by religious group

PUBLISHED : Monday, 21 April, 2014, 12:27am
UPDATED : Monday, 21 April, 2014, 6:34pm

Iran has criticised a US government move to seize a Manhattan skyscraper owned largely by a foundation that promotes its language and Islamic culture, saying this violated the right to religious freedom in the United States.

According to a court document filed in New York on Thursday, the US Department of Justice agreed to distribute proceeds from the sale of the Fifth Avenue high-rise to families affected by alleged Iranian-aided attacks, including the 1983 bombing of the US Marine barracks in Beirut.

The settlement marks the latest turn in a long-running battle over the 36-storey building owned chiefly by the Alavi Foundation, a non-profit Persian and Islamic cultural centre.

Iran's foreign ministry spokeswoman Marzieh Afkham said the decision "lacks legal justification and negates America's commitment to protecting its citizens' religious freedom".

The latest row came as US President Barack Obama signed a law on Friday barring an Iranian diplomat from serving as an envoy at the United Nations over his role in the 1979-81 hostage crisis at the US embassy in Tehran. But they are unlikely to significantly affect the current nuclear talks between Tehran and world powers, including the US.

In a 2009 lawsuit, the Manhattan US Attorney's office claimed the Alavi Foundation was controlled by Iran, citing the two minority owners as Assa Corp and Assa Co Ltd, both shell companies financed by Iran's national Bank Melli. And, last year, a federal court ruled that the skyscraper was subject to government forfeiture for "shielding and concealing Iranian assets" in violation of US sanctions law.

Alavi Foundation and the smaller stakeholder Assa are expected to appeal the US verdict.