Fifth Avenue Charity Is ‘Totally Controlled’ By Iran, NYPD Says - Group’s Lawyer Denies It (NEW YORK SUN) BY IRA STOLL 12/05/02)
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A $100 million charitable organization based on New York’s Fifth
Avenue is “totally controlled by the government of Iran,” and “funds
a variety of anti-American causes,” the New York Police Department’s
deputy commissioner for intelligence says in court papers.
In an interview with The New York Sun, a lawyer for the charity, the
Alavi Foundation, denied that it was controlled by Iran. In at least
two federal court cases, Americans suing Iran failed in their efforts
to show that the foundation was an “agency or instrumentality of a
The police official, David Cohen, is a 35-year veteran of the CIA who
was the CIA’s deputy director for operations from 1995 to 1997 and
the deputy director of the CIA’s directorate of intelligence from
1991 to 1995.
Mr. Cohen’s declaration came in a federal court case to decide how
much power the New York police should have to investigate individuals
or groups without specific information about criminal activity.
The New York Police Department’s activities are governed by a 1985
consent decree that Mr. Cohen argues “dangerously limits the ability
of the NYPD to protect the people it is sworn to serve.” The rules
set by that consent decree are known as the Handschu Guidelines,
after Barbara Handschu, a plaintiff in the 1971 case that led to the
1985 consent decree.
“As was made apparent by the success of the attacks on September
11th, terrorists engage in a prolonged period of often lawful
activity in preparation for their criminal acts. They escape
detection by blending into American society. They may own homes, live
in communities with families, belong to religious or social
organizations and attend educational institutions. They typically
display enormous patience, often waiting years until the components
of their plans are perfectly aligned,” Mr. Cohen said in his court
declaration. (Excerpts, page 7.)
“It is apparent to me that the Handschu guidelines place daunting
obstacles in our way. The continued applicability of the Guidelines
places this city, our nation and its people at heightened and
unjustifiable risk,” Mr. Cohen said.
In a later filing, Mr. Cohen said that without changes to the
guidelines, “the counterterrorism efforts of the NYPD will be
The reference to the Alavi Foundation comes in a document Mr. Cohen
filed September 12, 2002, signed under penalty of perjury. In a
section of the declaration headed “terrorist activity,” the
declaration states, “The Alavi Foundation is a non-profit charitable
organization ostensibly run by an independent board of directors but
totally controlled by the government of Iran. The foundation has
assets of about $100,000,000 in the U.S. and an annual income of
between $10-15 million. The foundation funds a variety of anti-
American causes, including the four Islamic education centers it owns
in New York, Maryland, Texas and California.
“The Maryland center is headed by Mohammad Al Asi, an American
convert to Islam who, during the Kuwait crisis, called on Muslims to
strike against American interests in the Middle East. Mosques funded
by Alavi have organizations which support Hezbollah and Hamas.”
Hezbollah and Hamas are two countries on the State Department’s list
of terrorist organizations. Iran is on the State Department’s list of
state sponsors of terror and was named by President Bush as part of
the “Axis of Evil.”
A lawyer for the Alavi Foundation, John Winter of the New York firm
Patterson, Belknap, Webb and Tyler, said the accusations about the
Alavi Foundation made him “angry.”
“That guy’s affidavit is bogus,” he said of Mr. Cohen’s
declaration. “I don’t know where that guy is coming from, but it’s
“If we were truly bad people, do you think we’d still be in
operation?” Mr. Winter said. He pointed to federal court decisions
that he said rejected the allegation that the foundation was
controlled by Iran.
In a case decided in 2000, Stephen Flatow, a New Jersey man whose
daughter was killed by Iranian-backed terrorists, tried to collect
from the Alavi Foundation on a $247 million judgment he had won
against Iran. In that case, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth
Circuit ruled that, under the relevant definition in federal law, the
Alavi foundation is not an “agency or instrumentality of a foreign
In a case decided in 1998, a Beverly Hills, Calif., man, Norman
Gabay, tried to collect from the Mostazafan Foundation of New York, a
predecessor of the Alavi Foundation. Mr. Gabay is a Jew who came to
America in 1971 and whose carpet factory was seized by the Iranian
government in 1983, according to an account of the case in Newsday.
In the Gabay case, a three judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals
for the Second Circuit, including Judge Jose Cabranes, ruled that Mr.
Gabay had “offered insufficient evidence to overcome the presumption
of independence” that applied to the foundation.
A lawyer for Mr. Flatow, Thomas Fortune Fay, said the courts require
an extremely high level of evidence — essentially proof of day-to-day
control — to show that an American business or charity is controlled
by a foreign government. “No one has ever met that burden of proof
and no one ever will,” Mr. Fay said.
The Alavi Foundation’s 2001 tax return, available on the Web, lists
the address of one of the group’s directors as “Tehran, Iran.” The
return lists the market value of the foundation’s total assets at $82
million. The largest portion of the assets are in the form of an
investment in 650 Fifth Ave. in New York; the tax return lists the
market value of that investment at $55 million.
The Alavi Foundation’s Web site says its purposes “are charitable and
philanthropic with an emphasis on education and civic concerns. One
of its primary aims is to promote understanding and harmony among
people of different religions.
“Another basic aim of the Foundation is to promote the study of the
humanities, arts, and pure and applied sciences. The Foundation gives
assistance to public charitable organizations during times of
hardship and deprivation caused by war or natural disasters. It also
provides financial assistance to not-for-profit organizations that
are involved in the teaching of Islamic culture and the Persian
Mr. Flatow said the foundation was originally created by the Shah of
Iran as the Pahlavi Foundation. The building at 650 Fifth Ave., at
52nd Street, is sometimes known as the Pahlavi Foundation Building.
After the Islamic revolution in Iran in 1979, there was a turnover on
the foundation’s board of directors and its name was changed. (
Copyright 2002 The New York Sun, One SL, LLC. 12/05/02)
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