Pedestrians walk past the entrance to the Piaget Building November 13, 2009 in New York. Federal agents took steps to take control of the Piaget building, owned by a Muslim non-profit organisation, in one of the biggest counter-terrorism operations in US history. The Alavi Foundation has been illegally funneling funds to the Iranian government, according to the office of US Attorney for the Southern District of New York Preet Bharara. Bharara filed a civil complaint with a New York federal court
It was once known as the Piaget Building because the Swiss jeweler used to have offices in the skyscraper near Rockefeller Center.
In the near future, it will be known as property of the federal government.
U.S. District Judge Katherine Forrest has granted a summary judgment that clears the way for the government to seize the 36-story office building owned by a corporation and foundation with ties to the Iranian government. The move is the latest chapter in a short but storied history that includes design by John Carl Warnecke, the same architect who drew up the John F. Kennedy Eternal Flame gravesite at Arlington National Cemetery in Virginia, Logan International Airport in Boston and the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis, Md.
A statement by the U.S. Justice Department says the ruling "paves the way for the largest-ever terrorism-related forfeiture."
The building at 650 Fifth Ave. in Manhattan is owned by the Alavi Foundation and Assa Corp., which took part in money laundering, the statement says. Assa is a front for Bank Melli, which is a "a front for the government of Iran," according to the statement.
Contact information could not be found for Assa and no one could be reached at the foundation, which has offices in the building. A partial statement dated Tuesday on Alavi's Internet homepage indicated it has plans to appeal.
The foundation, according to the homepage, is dedicated to "promoting the teaching of Islamic Culture, Persian Language, Literature and Civilization."
"We have reviewed the decision and disagree with the court's analysis of the facts and the law," the statement read. "The Foundation was ready for trial and is disappointed that it did not have the opportunity to rebut the Government evidence before a jury."
Two links that appear to lead to the remainder of the statement instead go to other material on the website.
Representatives for the building's management, CBRE out of Los Angeles, did not respond to a telephone message or to emails.
Citigroup is among the building's corporate tenants, although the building does not house Citigroup's corporate headquarters. No one could be reached at Citigroup Tuesday night for a response.
Starwood Hotel & Resorts, owner of Sheraton and Westin hotels, also is a corporate tenant.
After the Iranian revolution of 1979, the government established a foundation to manage expropriated property, according to the Justice Department. The foundation later came to be known as the Alavi Foundation and partnered with Bank Melli to avoid paying real estate taxes.
The building replaced the old high-end De Pinna department store and opened in 1979, according to the building data site Emporis.com.
The building's website proclaims, "The Answer is Yes" and says the granite structure built on a 13,625-square-foot lot has been recently revamped with an $11 million capital improvement project that includes redesigned lobby and new outdoor esplanade.
The building will be sold and is worth $500 million to $700 million, according to the New York Daily News. Proceeds will go toward helping the victims of Iranian-sponsored terrorism.
The Justice Department initially filed a civil complaint in the case in 2008.
Melanie Eversley, USA TODAY