An Islamic, Manhattan-based charity suspected of being an illegal front for Iran is funding professors at US universities, the New York Post reported Monday.
The paper said that the multimillion-dollar Alavi Foundation had given hundreds of thousands of dollars to programs at Columbia University and Rutgers University for Middle Eastern and Persian studies that employ anti-Israel professors "sympathetic" to the Islamic republic.
"We found evidence that the government of Iran really controlled everything about the foundation," the New York Post quoted Adam Kaufmann, investigations chief at the Manhattan District Attorney's Office, as saying.
Feds are working to seize up to $650 million in assets from the Alavi Foundation, which they say also provides funds to a syndicate of Iranian spies based in Europe, the newspaper added.
The Post cited one of the biggest donations as being $100,000 to Columbia after the university hosted Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.
"This is all about Iran laundering their policies through academe," the newspaper quoted Michael Rubin, an Iran expert at the American Enterprise Institute think tank, as saying. "And the ivory tower is prostituting itself for money."
In response, Rutgers professor Hooshang Amirahmadi Amirahmadi told the Post, "Grants from Alavi are made to the universities, not to the professors."
The paper noted that Amirahmadi, former head of the school's Center for Middle Eastern Studies and president of the nonprofit advocacy group American-Iranian Council, had touted Hizbullah and Hamas as legitimate organizations and not terror groups.
It quoted Columbia spokesman Robert Hornsby as saying that said Alavi's donations rarely topped more than a few thousand dollars and that the school was surprised the foundation had direct ties to the Iranian government.
The Alavi foundation declined to comment to the paper.