|Judge backs U.S. right to seize Manhattan building allegedly controlled by Iran||
TEHRAN – The United States is set to seize control of a midtown Manhattan skyscraper prosecutors claim is secretly owned by Iran, the U.S. justice department said, though the ruling is to be appealed, AFP reported.
According to the report, a federal judge ruled in favor of the government's legal case this week, claiming that the 36-storey Piaget Building's owners had violated Iran sanctions and money laundering laws.
Manhattan Federal Prosecutor Preet Bharara said the decision upheld the justice department claims that the owner of the building "was (and is) a front for Bank Melli, and thus a front for the Government of Iran".
Prosecutors allege that the building's owners, the Alavi Foundation and Assa Corporation, transferred rental income and other funds to Iran's state-owned Bank Melli.
Alavi also ran a charitable organization for Iran and managed the building for the Iranian government, the statement said.
Built in the 1970s by a non-profit organization operated by the Shah of Iran - and financed with a Bank Melli loan - the building was expropriated by the new Iranian government after the 1979 revolution, prosecutors allege.
The U.S. Treasury Department has instituted tight sanctions against Iran, blacklisting a number of Iranian companies and organizations and putting very tight controls on the ability of any group or business to transfer funds into Iran.
The restrictions seek to pressure Tehran into giving up what the West claims is a program to develop nuclear weapons, a charge Iran denies.
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