An unprecedented terrorism-related forfeiture order against the Iranian government that would benefit families of 9/11 victims was reversed on appeal on Wednesday.
The Second Circuit Court of Appeals in Manhattan rejected a lower court’s reasoning in ordering the sale of a 36-story office building along with other properties, to benefit 9/11 families.
The families and the US government had sued the Alavi Foundation and Assa Corp., the building’s part owners. US Attorney Preet Bharara confirmed that the sale of the building would have been the largest ever terrorism-related forfeiture.
The lower court judge, Katherine Forrest, said revenue from the building passed through a state-owned Iranian bank, in violation of a US-trade embargo, making the property eligible for forfeiture.
The property was to be sold, on order of Judge Forrest, by US Marshals, with proceeds to be distributed among 19 holders of over $5 billion in terrorism-related judgments against the government of Iran – a country that the now-public 9/11 Commission report never alleged involvement in the terror attack, and whose Shi’a leadership holds a longstanding animosity for the hardline Salafist Sunni al-Qaeda network.
The appeals court did not address the merits of whether it was proper for 9/11 victims to receive compensation for the terror attack from the Iranian government, but rather determined that the lower court had failed to establish that the properties were owned and controlled by Iran rather than private, unaffiliated individuals from the Alavi Foundation and Assa Corporation.
"Given the lack of evidence demonstrating Iran’s day-to-day control of Alavi, we conclude, as a matter of law, that defendants cannot be deemed Iran’s alter egos," stated the Second Circuit Court of Appeals.
The court argues that, while evidence demonstrates that the Iranian government created Alavi in 1973 and supervised its board in the 1980s and 1990s, no evidence exists that Tehran maintained control of the board past 2007.
Other beneficiaries of the forfeiture fund would have included, in addition to 9/11 families, the relatives and estates of victims of the 1983 bombings of a US Marine barracks in Beirut, the 1996 bombing of the Khobar Towers in Saudi Arabia, and a multitude of attacks in Israel.