Bush cracks down on Iran businesses

Washington freezes assets of company suspected of indirectly supporting Teheran's nuclear program.

Bush 248.88 (photo credit: AP)
Bush 248.88
(photo credit: AP)
The Bush administration appears to be using its final weeks to crack down on Iranian business interests in the US, freezing assets of a company suspected of indirectly supporting Teheran's nuclear program and arresting the executive of a related charity. Farshid Jahedi was arrested on one count of obstructing justice last week after FBI agents allegedly saw him throwing out documents subpoenaed by a grand jury investigating the relationship between the Alavi Foundation and the Assa Corp., with which it co-owns a 36-story office tower on the toniest stretch of Manhattan's Fifth Avenue just north of Rockefeller Center. That move was the latest under an executive order signed by President George W. Bush in 2005 providing for the seizure of assets belonging to groups or individuals suspected of engaging in or attempting to engage in the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction. The US government claims Assa and its Channel Islands parent company are fronts created by Iran's Bank Melli, which is suspected of providing material support to Iran's nuclear and ballistic missile programs. Bank Melli was sanctioned by the US government last year on suspicion that it directed at least $100 million to the Iranian Revolutionary Guards branch that supported Hamas, Islamic Jihad and other terrorist groups. Federal authorities announced a freeze on Assa's US holdings last Wednesday, including the building at 650 Fifth Avenue, originally constructed in the 1970s by Alavi's predecessor organization, the Pahlavi Foundation, which was allegedly directed by the Shah of Iran. "This scheme to use a front company set up by Bank Melli - a known proliferator - to funnel money from the United States to Iran is yet another example of Iran's duplicity," Stuart Levey, the Treasury Department's undersecretary for terrorism and financial intelligence, said in a press statement. The building's construction was financed in part by a loan from Bank Melli, according to the Treasury. Officials claim Bank Melli created Assa to hold its stake in the building, known as the Piaget building, in 1989, after the Alavi Foundation sought to transfer 40 percent of the building's ownership into a partnership to avoid a "substantial" tax payment on rental income. US Attorney-General Michael Mukasey has recused himself from the investigation because he represented Alavi in a real estate dispute in the early 1980s, while the foundation was known under its previous name. Alavi has come under repeated scrutiny over the past 20 years for its own suspected ties to the Iranian government, according to court filings its attorney John Winter made in a 2002 case, in which the charity was accused of supporting Sheik Omar Abdul Rahman and the al-Farouq mosque in Brooklyn. Winter called the claim "completely false." The foundation's Web site says it is devoted to the "promotion and support of Islamic culture and Persian language, literature and civilization" through charitable and philanthropic causes. Jahedi, 54, who appeared in a Manhattan court on Saturday, remains free on his own recognizance on $500,000 bond secured by property in Illinois, officials said. His attorney, Daniel Ruzumna, did not immediately return a message left by The Jerusalem Post seeking comment. The FBI complaint against Jahedi said he was warned not to destroy documents requested by a grand jury. It said he disobeyed the order when he went home to Ardsley, New York, and dumped papers in a public trash can on Thursday. If convicted, Jahedi could face up to 10 years in prison. AP contributed to this report.