A federal court in Manhattan secretly ordered frozen more than $2 billion allegedly held on behalf of Iran in Citigroup Inc. accounts, the Wall Street Journal revealed Saturday.
According to the report, the legal order, executed 18 months ago by the US District Court for the Southern District of New York, was under seal and had not been made public.
The money has reportedly been at the center of a legal struggle between families of US Marines killed or wounded in a Hizbullah terror attack on a Marine barracks in Beirut in 1983 and Luxembourg's Clearstream Banking S.A., the holder of the Citibank account.
The Wall Street Journal report comes amid American and European warnings that Teheran risks increased sanctions unless it immediately complies with a series of Security Council resolutions regarding its nuclear program.
On Friday, US Defense Secretary Robert Gates predicted significant international sanctions would be levied if Iran continued with its current nuclear program, and reiterated that all options, including military action, must stay on the table.
"I think that you are going to see some significant additional sanctions imposed by the international community," Gates said, speaking to troops in Iraq. He added that "any military action would only buy some time, maybe two or three years."
In November, federal prosecutors sought to take over four US mosques and a New York City skyscraper owned by a Muslim organization suspected of being controlled by the Iranian government.
Prosecutors filed a civil complaint in federal court against the Alavi Foundation, seeking the forfeiture of more than $500 million in assets.
The assets include bank accounts; Islamic centers consisting of schools and mosques in New York, Maryland, California and Houston; more than 100 acres in Virginia; and a 36-story Manhattan office tower. Confiscating the properties would be a sharp blow against Iran, which the US government has accused of bankrolling terrorism and trying to build a nuclear bomb.
AP contributed to this report