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US court allows seizure of New York skyscraper linked to Iran

Proceeds from building's sale, valued between $500m-1bn, will go towards compensation of victims of terror attacks
Iranian charity owns this skyscraper on fifth avenue in New York City (Wikipedia)

A New York court on Thursday ruled that a 36-storey skyscraper said to be controlled by Iran may be seized by the US government, in what prosecutors called the biggest civil forfeiture linked to terrorism in the country's history.

Proceeds from the sale of the building, valued at between $500m and $1bn, will go towards a fund for the compensation of victims of terror attacks, Joon H Kim, a lawyer from the prosecutor's office said.

According to a Bloomberg report, the jury decided that the Iranian charity that owned the Fifth Avenue office building – the Alavi Foundation – was in violation of US sanctions by raking in millions of dollars each year from rental leases.

A lower court had previously decided the case in the US government's favour in 2013, though its ruling was stayed on appeal.

Victims and survivors of the 1983 attack on Marine barracks in Beirut and the 1996 bombing of Khobar Towers in Saudi Arabia stand to benefit.

Tehran has always denied responsibility for both attacks. 

The jury decided that the owners of the property on the city's prestigious Fifth Avenue had transferred millions of dollars earned from the tower to Iran via the state-owned Bank Melli Iran.

"The owners of 650 Fifth Avenue gave the Iranian government a critical foothold in the very heart of Manhattan through which Iran successfully circumvented US economic sanctions," said Kim.

Meanwhile, the US Supreme Court on Tuesday agreed to decide whether people injured in a 1997 bombing attack in Jerusalem can seek to enforce a $71m judgment against Iran over its alleged role by seizing ancient Persian artifacts held by two Chicago museums.

The justices will hear the plaintiffs' appeal of a 2016 ruling in favour of Iran by the Chicago-based 7th US Circuit Court of Appeals.

The court's ruling in the case is also likely to dictate the outcome of a similar dispute pending before the justices in which four different groups of plaintiffs representing those injured in other allegedly Iran-backed attacks are seeking to enforce court judgments by seizing $17.6m in assets also held by Bank Melli.

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