U.S. Treasury Seizes Property Linked to Iran’s Bank Melli

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[h/t Global Security Newswire]

The U.S. Justice Department seized a share of a Manhattan building held by Assa Corporation, a suspected financial supporter of Iran’s nuclear program:

Assa Corp. is a front company that for nearly 20 years has used a complicated system to redirect rental profits from its 40-percent stake in 650 Fifth Ave. to Iranian state-owned Bank Melli, officials in the Treasury and Justice departments wrote in court documents (Glenn Kessler, Washington Post, Dec. 18).

The State Department accused Bank Melli in a statement of underwriting acquisitions for Iranian ballistic missile and atomic programs that could support nuclear weapons development, Agence France-Presse reported. The bank also provides credit lines, opens accounts and conducts transactions for entities engaged in proliferation operations, the statement said (Agence France-Presse/Google News, Dec. 17).

Tehran has insisted its nuclear efforts are strictly peaceful.

U.S. law requires the Iranian government and any affiliate to obtain special approval from Washington before conducting business in the United States, the Post reported.

“This scheme to use a front company set up by Bank Melli — a known proliferator — to funnel money from the United States to Iran is yet another example of Iran’s duplicity,” Treasury Department Undersecretary Stuart Levey said.

Assa lawyer Peter Livingston said the charge was incorrect although he had not seen the court documents.

“It’s a mistake on the part of the government,” he said. “We don’t believe this is accurate at all” (Kessler, Washington Post).

Meanwhile, Israel warned that Iran would “not hesitate” to use a nuclear bomb to attempt an attack on the United States, the Associated Press reported.

[read it all here]

More on Bank Melli from the U.S. Department of the Treasury:

Bank Melli provides financial services, including opening letters of credit and maintaining accounts, for Iranian front companies and entities engaged in proliferation activities. Further, Bank Melli has facilitated the purchase of sensitive materials utilized by Iran’s nuclear and missile industries, and has handled transactions for other designated Iranian entities, including Bank Sepah, Defense Industries Organization, and the Shahid Hammat Industrial Group.

Bank Melli has been designated as a proliferator by the United States and the European Union for its role in Iran’s nuclear and ballistic missile programs. United Nations Security Council Resolution 1803 calls on all member states to exercise vigilance with regard to activities between financial institutions in their countries and all Iranian banks, particularly Bank Melli.

Further, Bank Melli provides banking services to Iran’s military vanguard, the Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) and the Qods Force, which is a branch of the IRGC that has been designated under Executive Order 13224 for providing support to terrorist groups, including the Taliban, Hizballah, Hamas, Palestinian Islamic Jihad, and the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine – General Command.

Bank Melli created ASSA CORP. as a vehicle to hold Bank Melli’s interest in a building located at 650 Fifth Avenue, New York, New York, whose construction had been financed, in part, by a Bank Melli loan. ASSA CORP. co-owns the building through a partnership formed with the Alavi Foundation of New York, called 650 Fifth Avenue Company.

UPDATE [via AP]:

The president of a foundation that co-owns a Manhattan building allegedly linked to a bank accused of supporting Iran’s nuclear program was arrested Friday.

Farshid Jahedi, 54, the president of the Alavi Foundation, was charged with obstruction of justice after he tried on Thursday to throw away documents responsive to a subpoena he received one day earlier, federal prosecutors said.

An FBI complaint against Jahedi said he was warned not to destroy documents requested by a grand jury. It said he disobeyed the order when he went home to Ardsley, N.Y., where he dumped papers in a public trash can.

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