For more than 25 years, U.S. intelligence and law enforcement authorities say they have suspected the New York-based Alavi Foundation is a "front" for Iranian espionage and anti-American activities. For more than 25 years, court records show the foundation has been publicly defended and represented by the New York law firm where attorney-general nominee Michael Mukasey is a partner: Patterson Belknap Webb & Tyler LLP. The foundation says the firm continues to represent it. Mukasey personally handled at least one matter in court for the foundation. That case, a real estate dispute, began in 1981 when reports first surfaced that the foundation, originally set up by the Shah, had been taken over by the new Ayatollah and the Islamic Republic of Iran. Mukasey took it to trial in 1984. Click Here for Full Blotter Coverage. The firm insists the foundation has no link to Iran’s government. "I think we’ve had a relationship that goes back 20 or so odd years with this foundation. This foundation has made all appropriate filings…since we’ve represented the foundation," said John Winter, a partner at Patterson Belknap. "The foundation is transparent…in accordance with the law. It is not an alter ego or a front for the Iranian government nor is it controlled by the government of Iran." The case handled by Mukasey was settled in 1984, two years after the foundation was described in the New York Times as being controlled by the government of Iran. More recently, the Alavi Foundation was described four years ago by New York Police Department intelligence chief David Cohen, a former CIA official, as "totally controlled by the government of Iran." "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," Cohen said in the affidavit, filed in connection with a request by the police department to expand surveillance powers. "The foundation funds a variety of anti-American causes, including the four Islamic education centers it owns in New York, Maryland, Texas and California…Mosques funded by Alavi have organizations which support Hezbollah and Hamas."
A 2003 Washington Post story said the foundation was also suspected of obtaining "data about U.S. technology" in violation of the U.S. embargo imposed on Iran following the hostage crisis of 1979-81. U.S. law enforcement and intelligence officials tell the Blotter on ABCNews.com that the Alavi Foundation continues to be under investigation and is closely monitored as a "front" for Iran. No criminal charges have ever been brought against the foundation. "And as I said, five different courts have looked at the allegations," Winter said. "In several of the cases, the plaintiffs have relied on affidavits [from former intelligence or law enforcement officers]…and those allegations have never been substantiated."
The foundation controls a 36-story Fifth Avenue office building in New York. According to its 2006 IRS filing, the foundation has more than $85 million in assets, including $6.8 million in cash. It says it distributed more than $4 million for educational and religious programs across the United States. A person who answered the phone at the foundation said its president, Farshid Jahedi, had "no comment," and referred all calls to Patterson Belknap. Mukasey left Patterson Belknap in 1988 to become a federal judge and rejoined the firm last year. A White House spokesperson said, "Judge Mukasey hasn’t performed any legal work for the foundation in more than 20 years. Any inference that he would be associated with anything improper is irresponsible." The firm concurred. "Judge Mukasey has not been involved in the representation of the foundation since that time," Winter said. Asked if Mukasey would recuse himself as attorney general from decisions involving the investigation of the Alavi Foundation, the spokesperson said, "As Judge Mukasey’s long record of personal and professional integrity would suggest, he will take the most ethically appropriate action after discussions with government counsel."
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