Over the last decade the United States has intensified its efforts to uncover and halt Iranian evasion of trade and financial sanctions. This increased effort has uncovered some very clever scams. One of the more interesting was revealed in a recent (September, 2013) U.S. court ruling that Iran had, since the 1980s, been concealing its 40 percent ownership of a 36 story skyscraper on 5th Avenue in New York City. The U.S. has been on to this for over 5 years but lawyers for the front corporation the Iranians had created to hide this ownership put up a stiff fight.
The building at 650 5th Avenue was built in 1978, for a charitable trust (the Pahlavi Foundation) funded and controlled by the Shah (king) of Iran. The Shah was overthrown in 1979, and his many overseas assets were taken over by the new Iranian government. Iranian clerics took over that new government in the 1980s and declared war on the West. In the midst of all this, the new Islamic Iranian government was sanctioned for supporting terrorism (and in the last decade for developing nuclear weapons). Despite the decades of sanctions the Iranians managed to get lots of those overseas Pahlavi Foundation assets transferred to new charitable trusts that, to all appearances, were no longer controlled by the post-Shah Iranian government or anyone inside the new “Islamic Republic of Iran.” This was done to cope with new American laws in 1995, that made Islamic Republic of Iran ownership of the Shah’s assets illegal. But many of those asserts were still controlled by the Islamic Republic of Iran and for over two decades the income from those assets (including $5 million a year from the 5th Avenue skyscraper) was spent to quietly support Islamic Republic of Iran interests. As more of these assets are revealed they will be sold off by the U.S. government and the proceeds given to those who have already won court judgments against Iran (for terrorist attack losses or for property inside Iran stolen by the Islamic Republic of Iran).
This particular case is but one of many and the investigations are revealing a large network of people working with Iran, often in illegal ways, to hide assets. Losing this network, both the people, the assets, and the influence, is a major defeat for the Islamic Republic of Iran. That’s because Iran is also suffering from much stronger economic sanctions (which have cut oil income by more than half in the last year) and major damage to Iranian smuggling operations (which bring in vital items needed by the military and the nuclear weapons program). It has, in short, been a very bad year for the Islamic Republic of Iran.