Tower seizure in NYC violates religious freedom: Iranian group

Spokesperson: confiscation of 650 Fifth Avenue raises doubt "about the credibility of US justice"

650 Fifth Avenue and Iran's Ayatollah Khamenei
650 Fifth Avenue and Iran's Ayatollah Khamenei

An Iranian nonprofit with alleged ties to Tehran isn’t happy with the forced forfeiture of the Piaget Building at 650 Fifth Avenue, and says the move was a violation of the right to religious freedom guaranteed by the United States.

A Manhattan federal judge ruled last month that a group of Iranian companies who own the building must hand over the property because they acted as fronts for the Iranian government. But a spokesperson for the Alavi Foundation, the chief owner of the property, counters that the organization is a foundation that promotes Persian language and Islamic culture.

“Confiscation of the properties of an independent charity organization raises doubt about the credibility of U.S. justice,” Marzieh Afkham, spokesperson for the nonprofit Persian and Islamic cultural center Alavi Foundation, chief owner of the building, told Reuters. The move “lacks legal justification and negates America’s commitment to protecting its citizens’ religious freedom,” she added.

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The proceeds from the sale of the building, which is valued at over $500 million, are to go to the families of victims of Iranian-sponsored terrorism, according to previous reports.

The Manhattan U.S. Attorney’s office claimed in a 2009 lawsuit that the Alavi Foundation was controlled by Iran, and that minority owners Assa Corporation and Assa Company Limited were both financed by Iran’s national Bank Melli and used for “shielding and concealing Iranian assets,” according to the court’s ruling.

Afkham denied the accusations. “These charges are nothing new,” she told Reuters. “They are merely concocted to put pressure and chase political aims.” [Reuters]Julie Strickland