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Minnesota Professor Comments on Iran-Related Civil Suit

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Comment on story: United States Files Civil Forfeiture Action Against Assa Corporation's Interest in Manhattan Office Tower

This story is taken verbatim from the press release issued by the U.S. Attorney's office with no analysis.

As details of the suit against the Assa Corporation, which with the Alavi Foundation owns an office building at 650 Park Avenue in New York unravel, the case becomes curiouser and curiouser. The suit against the Assa Corporation is a civil suit, not a criminal suit, filed by the U.S. Attorney's office of the Southern District of New York.

It claims that the Assa Corporation, which is incorporated on the island of Jersey (in the Channel Islands between Great Britain and France) is violating U.S. law by transferring income from a 40% share of the 650 Park Avenue building to Bank Melli in Iran through officers of the Assa corporation who "represent the interests of Bank Melli" (according to the press release). This operation is allegedly in violation of U.S. Iranian Transaction Regulations under the International Emergency Economic Powers Act. of 1995, obviously passed during the Clinton administration.

The fact that this is a civil suit is puzzling. It also is a puzzle as to how the United States comes to regulate a Jersey-incorporated entity, or how the U.S. Attorney will be able to determine what the Assa Corporation has been doing with regard to Iran. In short, the provenance of this action, and the authority that the U.S. Attorney's office is asserting to bring the suit are utterly unclear.

This entire action has the fingerprints of Stuart Levey, undersecretary of the Treasury for terrorism and financial intelligence, and self-described supporter of Israeli interests. I hope that in future reporting, someone will bother to ask how far consultation between the U.S. Attorney's office and Levey's office has proceeded. Mr. Levey has been hell-bent to stifle Iranian international economic activity wherever and whenever it occurs.

Sadly, this action will not have much effect on Iran, but it will have a devastating effect on the United States. The party that will be damaged by this lawsuit will be the Alavi Foundation, which has been a major actor in improving U.S.-Iranian cultural understanding. The Alavi Foundation supports Persian language instruction almost exclusively, and is one of the only entities in the United States providing direct support to U.S. institutions for Persian language instruction. Hundreds of American students have learned Persian under the aegis of Alavi Foundation support. The U.S. government supports Persian language instruction very poorly.

The action also has the fingerprints of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy (WINEP), a blatantly neo-conservative organization that has been lobbying the Bush administration to eliminate U.S. support for Middle Eastern Language instruction, on the pretext that these classes are "breeding grounds for anti-U.S. (and anti-Israeli) sentiments."

William O. Beeman
Professor and Chair, Department of Anthropology
University of Minnesota
Past President, Middle East Section,
American Anthropological Association.

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