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What's known about Iran-linked Alavi Foundation?

First set up by the Shah of Iran in the 1970s, the Alavi Foundation's alleged links to Iran have been under the scrutiny of federal investigators for years.

By Michael B. Farrell, Staff writer / November 14, 2009

A building at 650 Fifth Avenue is seen in the midtown Manhattan section of New York. U.S. prosecutors filed a civil lawsuit on Thursday to seize control of a New York City skyscraper they say is owned by companies illegally funneling money to the Iranian government. The suit seeks to revoke the Alavi Foundation and the Assa Corporation's ownership of the 36-story building at 650 Fifth Avenue in Manhattan.

Brendan McDermid/Reuters

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The New York-based Alavi Foundation is a high-profile organization that claims to be a non profit devoted to promoting Islam and the Persian language, and has even reportedly made donations to former President Bill Clinton's foundation. But it has been under FBI suspicion for years over alleged ties with Iran.

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On Thursday, those suspicions were laid out in a civil claim filed by federal prosecutors in New York seeking forfeiture of Alavi's interests in a Manhattan skyscraper and other properties that it owns in New York, Maryland, Virginia, Texas, and California. At least four mosques are located on these properties.

Federal prosecutors say the foundation is merely a front for the Iranian government and transfers rental income from its properties to Iran's Bank Melli, which was first subject to US sanctions in 2007 for alleged support of Iran's nuclear program.

Since the US declared a state of emergency over Iran's nuclear activities during the hostage crisis in the 1970s, the federal government can take action to seize any assets it believes are being used to support those efforts.

According to prosecutors, the Fifth Avenue skyscraper where the Alavi Foundation is located was built in the 1970s by its predecessor, the Pahlavi Foundation, which was set up to further the interest of then Shah of Iran, Mohammad Reza Pahlavi. When the shah was overthrown in 1979, Iran's mullahs took over his properties and renamed the New York organization the Mostazafan Foundation.

Its name was again changed to the Alavi Foundation, and prosecutors say it has since largely been directed by Iran's ambassadors to the United Nations.

The Alavi Foundation denies that it is a fundraising arm of the Iranian government and its lawyer has said the group will challenge the forfeiture action in court.

Federal investigators have been looking into the Foundation at least as far back as 2003, according to the Washington Post.

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