Wednesday, November 25, 2009

The Alavi Foundation: Ties between Iran, Clinton, and U.S. Universities

The month of November has seen some fascinating developments come to light, showing that an Islamic foundation, allegedly linked to the Iranian government, has made generous donations to several U.S. universities and one "infamous" foundation -- The William J. Clinton Foundation.

Background on The Alavi Foundation

The Alavi Foundation is a New York-based non-profit that claims to devote itself to promoting Islam and the Persian language and culture, contributing millions to schools, mosques, and Islamic center [source].  For years, it has been under FBI surveillance for alleged ties to Iran, resulting in the FBI and federal prosecutors filing a civil claim on Nov. 12th seeking forfeiture of Alavi's $650 million in assets, among which are a Manhattan skyscraper and various properties in the states of Maryland, Texas, Virginia, and California. Four mosques are included in the seizure.  In addition, Alavi's president Farshid Jahedi was indicted on charges of destroying documents related to a grand jury investigation.  [Source]

Alavi's Donations
In December 2008, The foundation donated between $25,000 and $50,000 to the William J. Clinton Foundation.  Rachel Ehrenfeld of Forbes creates an interesting timeline of Iran's interactions with the U.S. government and its donation to the Clinton foundation (emphasis added):

On Dec. 19, 2008, at 2 p.m., the New York-based Alavi Foundation, which supports Iranian causes, contributed between $25,000 and $50,000 to the William J. Clinton Foundation. This can be best described as the ultimate chutzpah, for on the very same day, the U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York indicted the president of the Alavi Foundation, Farshid Jahedi, "on a charge of obstruction of justice for allegedly destroying documents required to be produced under a grand jury subpoena concerning the Alavi Foundation's relationship with Bank Melli Iran and the ownership of a Manhattan office building."

Alavi's contribution to Clinton came just two days after the Treasury Department also designated Alavi's partner, the New York-based ASSA Corp., as a terrorist entity, and the New York Southern District's attorney seized and forfeited its assets. According to the Treasury Department, "Assa ... continued to provide services to Bank Melli by maintaining Melli's interest in 650 Fifth Avenue Co. and transferring income from 650 Fifth Avenue Co. to Bank Melli." ASSA owned 650 Fifth Avenue Co. together with the Alavi Foundation. Incredibly, the government seized only 40% of the 36-story building controlled by ASSA, leaving the Alavi Foundation in charge of the remaining 60%.
• Rutgers University: Between 2005 and 2007, Rutgers has received $351,600 from the Alavi Foundation.  From The NY Post (emphasis added):
Between 2005 and 2007, the Alavi Foundation donated $351,600 to the Rutgers Persian language program, a spokesman for the school acknowledged. The university would not comment further.

"This is all about Iran laundering their policies through academe," said Michael Rubin, an Iran expert at the American Enterprise Institute think tank. "And the ivory tower is prostituting itself for money."
But Amirahmadi disagreed. "Grants from Alavi are made to the universities, not to the professors," he told The Post.
• Columbia University: received $100,000 from Alavi after its highly controversial 2007 agreement to host Iranian leader Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.  Columbia drew heavy criticism when John Coatsworth, the dean of the School of International and Public Affairs, said that just about anyone, except for leaders of countries at war with the U.S., would be invited to speak at Columbia -- even pre-WWII Hitler.  Oddly, this is the same campus that has banned the ROTC and has invited and uninvited Jim Gilchrist of the Minutemen Project [source].

Other universities that have received donations from Alavi are Harvard, Portland State [source], and Sacred Heart [source].

Could this Iranian-linked "charitable" foundation been paying universities to ally themselves with Iran's causes?  Isabel Vincent of The New York Post thinks the deep-pocketed organization has aggressively bought sympathetic professors:

The Alavi Foundation — a charity that law-enforcement officials believe is a front for the Iranian government — has given hundreds of thousands of dollars to fund professorships at Columbia and Rutgers universities. These professors have been apologists for the Iranian government:

Gary Sick, professor, School of International and Public Affairs, Columbia: He [Mahmoud Ahmadinejad] made it very clear that, whether he is talking about ‘wiping Israel off the map,’ or ‘erased from the pages of time,’ or whatever the quote is, what he means is that there should be a free referendum among the peoples of the Palestine that existed to the partition in 1948 to vote about the kind of a government they should have. He is confident that, in a free vote, Israel and Israelis would lose that vote and it would turn out to be something else: a unitary state, probably run by the Palestinians.
Hooshang Amirahmadi, director, Center for Middle Eastern Studies, Rutgers: Unfortunately, a large part of the problems between Iran and the US are not based in reality, but are based on myths. The problem of terrorism is a true myth. Iran has not been involved in any terrorist organization. Neither Hezbollah nor Hamas are terrorist organizations . . . The Iranian president’s problem is with Israel, not with America.
Hamid Dabashi, professor of Iranian studies and comparative literature, Columbia: That monstrosity that [director Zack] Snyder pictures [in his film “300”] marching towards Thermopylae is the American empire — and that band of brothers that stood up to that monstrosity are those resisting this empire: They are the Iraqi resistance, the Palestinians, Hezbollah.
The Alavi Foundation: Scrutinized for Years
Amidst accusations that the foundation is doing Iran's bidding here in the U.S. and that it is essentially controlled by Tehran, many are shocked at how the group could own such huge property right in downtown New York City, despite the questions that have circled around Alavi for years.  From FoxNews:
In 2002, David Cohen, a former top level CIA official and current chief of intelligence for the NYPD, claimed in a court document that "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 ." He also claimed the foundation "funds a variety of Anti-American causes."  ...

In May, the District Attorney of Manhattan, Robert Morganthau, testified before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. He told Chairman Senator John Kerry that "we were looking at the Alavi Foundation, this major Iranian foundation in New York and found money going to suspect people, and then we were looking at their banking transactions."

In December, the FBI carted out 100 boxes of records from Alavi's headquarters, all part of an investigation that has ensnared the foundation's former president, Farshid Jahedi. He is a 54-year-old executive who was ordered by prosecutors not to destroy any documents relating to the federal investigation in December. But prosecutors say that instead, he shredded paperwork involving Assa and the Fifth Avenue building, and dumped the torn documents in a garbage can in his hometown of Ardsley, N.Y. He apparently didn't know that the FBI was watching.

Jahedi has been charged with obstruction of justice. His lawyer, Barry Berke, protests his innocence, saying his client couldn't have been obstructing justice because federal prosecutors have copies of the material Jahedi was allegedly trying to destroy. "Mr. Jahedi did not have the intent to obstruct an investigation," he told the court, "because the documents allegedly destroyed contained information that is identical to the documents" authorities have.
The above article has a link for downloading Alavi's tax records.  

Other resources:
• More info on the Jahedi indictment here and here

• The FBI's webpage regarding its seeking of assets forfeiture, making connections between Iranian government and Alavi as well as detailing more on Jahedi's involvement here.
• Information regarding Alavi from The Terror Finance Blog

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