From The New York Times
U.S. Moves to Seize Properties Tied to Iran
Federal prosecutors in Manhattan began legal action on Thursday to seize properties in Queens and across the country where several mosques are located in a broad move against a nonprofit organization that was accused of illegally providing money and other services to Iran.
The organization, the Alavi Foundation, owns the land on which the mosques sit, as well as a majority interest in an office tower at 650 Fifth Avenue in Manhattan, which has also been slated for seizure by the government.
The authorities accused the Alavi Foundation of spending millions of dollars to obtain and develop the properties, in violation of federal laws that ban trade with Iran.
In addition to the Queens property, which is at 55-11 Queens Boulevard and houses the Imam Ali Mosque, the government sought forfeiture of the foundation’s ownership in seven other properties, several of which house mosques. Another of the properties is a 36-story granite-and-glass tower at 52nd Street known as the Piaget Building.
The prosecutors did not specify how much money they were seeking to be forfeited, but they said that the foundation had tried for years to hide its relationship with the government of Iran. The prosecutors described meetings between the Iranian ambassador to the United Nations and the foundation’s president. The two men met periodically, in a closed room, at the center in Queens, the complaint said.
The government, in a complaint filed in Federal District Court, made no allegations against the mosques or other tenants of the properties owned by the foundation.
In a statement issued late Thursday, the office of the United States attorney, Preet Bharara, said that they remained free to use the properties.
“There are no allegations of any wrongdoing on the part of any of these tenants or occupants,” said Yusill Scribner, a spokeswoman. “No action has been taken against any tenants or occupants of those properties.”
A lawyer for the foundation, Daniel Ruzumna, said: “The Alavi Foundation is disappointed that the government decided to bring this civil forfeiture action. The foundation has been cooperating fully with the government since the investigation began. The foundation intends to litigate the government’s claims and expects to prevail when the litigation is over.”
The prosecutors’ action came on the same day the White House said that President Obama had renewed longstanding economic sanctions against Iran, Reuters reported. The president said, “Our relations with Iran have not yet returned to normal.”
Worshippers at the Imam Ali Mosque were stunned by the news of the government’s action, which they said they learned of only from reporters outside.
The mosque is in a white two-story building that also houses the Razi School. A forfeiture notice had been taped to the front door.
“This is a place of worship; anybody can come to pray, that’s it,” said one congregant, Ali Naderi of Queens. “We do believe this allegation is not true.”
He said the mosque was a nonprofit organization and received support from the Alavi Foundation and others. “We don’t own this place,” he said. “We are a community and we come for worship.”
Mr. Naderi said 600 to 700 families attended the mosque regularly.
A man who answered the phone at Imam Ali Mosque on Thursday night said, “No one is here; everybody is praying,” and abruptly hung up.
“Because information is lacking, this might well cause yet another wave of fear in the Muslim community,” said Adem Carroll, chairman of the Muslim Consultative Network, an advocacy group. “It would be sad if word in our community starts spreading that the government will shut us all down. Already some think this is a war against the religion; that is a very unhelpful perception.”
The mosques — also on Alavi Foundation property in Maryland, Texas and California — receive space and financial support from the foundation, said one person affiliated with the organization who spoke on the condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to discuss the matter.
On its Web site, the foundation says that it has promoted “Islamic culture and Persian language, literature and civilization” for more than 30 years, through grants and other activities.