U.S. judge says foundation funding McGill concealed Iranian assets

An American federal judge has ruled a foundation that has given thousands of dollars to Canadian schools and universities, including more than $200,000 to McGill University, is “shielding and concealing” Iranian assets by collaborating with Iran’s state-owned Bank Melli.

The Alavi Foundation is the majority owner of a lucrative Manhattan skyscraper. U.S. District Judge Katherine Forrest said the minority owners, Assa Co Ltd and Assa Corp, are fronts for Bank Melli “and thus a front for the Government of Iran.”

Under Canada’s 2010 Special Economic Measures Regulations on Iran, Canadians cannot do business with Bank Melli. The United States and the European Union have also blacklisted the bank, alleging it funds terrorism and Iran’s nuclear missile program.

The Alavi Foundation gets most of its income from renting space in the office tower, known as 650 Fifth Avenue. It was built in the 1970s by the Pahlavi Foundation, then controlled by the shah of Iran, and used to fund the Pahlavi Foundation’s charitable activities.

American federal prosecutors allege that following the 1979 Islamic Revolution, Iran’s new rulers took over the property and renamed the foundation, running it through Iran’s ambassadors to the United Nations.

The Alavi Foundation has given more than $300,000 to Canadian universities and more than $200,000 to the private Toronto Farsi School since 2004.

In an interview with Maclean’s earlier this year, McGill Arts Dean Christopher Manfredi said he had seen no “direct evidence” linking the Alavi Foundation to Iran.

“As far as I’m concerned, when we receive money from the Alavi Foundation, we’re not receiving money from Iran. We’re simply receiving money from a philanthropic foundation that has an interest in supporting cultural activities around Persian language, literature and culture.”

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