In 2006, Mr. Morgenthau’s office began an investigation into New York’s Alavi Foundation, which turned out to be an Iranian government front. Money from the foundation “was being used to pay Iranian agents around the world,” he says. Last month the U.S. government seized $500 million of the foundation’s assets, including a Fifth Avenue office tower.
Mr. Morgenthau lacked the statute to bring legal action so he referred the Alavi inquiry to the FBI, while continuing to track a larger financial web. Individuals associated with Alavi had received money from Iran’s government-controlled Bank Melli, which has been sanctioned by the U.S. government, the United Nations and the European Union for its support of the regime’s nuclear and missile programs. The D.A.’s investigators found a money trail leading from Melli and other Iranian state-controlled banks, through legitimate banks in London and other European cities and into correspondent banks in the United States.
Credit Suisse, Lloyds and “eight other banks that we know about,” according to Mr. Morgenthau, were involved in “stripping.” This means disguising that Iran is the origin of transactions routed through American banks.
What are the Iranians buying with their ill-gotten American currency? Mr. Morgenthau obtained a shopping list that includes tantalum, a hard metal used in roadside bombs. But the Iranians are thinking bigger. He reports that he showed the shopping list to an executive at Raytheon, w…