- Associated Press - Wednesday, November 28, 2012

IOWA CITY, Iowa — A national Muslim lobby group called on U.S. authorities Wednesday to explain their investigation into a leading maker of food for observant Muslims, saying it is troubled by the secrecy surrounding the seizure of the company’s bank account and records.

The Council on American-Islamic Relations said it is seeking more information about the Oct. 16 raid of the Midamar Corp. and the related investigation. Spokesman Ibrahim Hooper said it was unacceptable for the Cedar Rapids-based company to be crippled by the seizure of operating funds without being charged with a crime or formally told what the government is investigating.

“This is America. If you are raided by the government, you should know why you are raided,” he said. “If they have some evidence of wrongdoing, it should be brought out in open court and there should be a right to reply to whatever evidence is brought out.”

The U.S. attorney’s office in Cedar Rapids, which is overseeing the investigation, declined to respond Wednesday, saying it cannot comment on sealed search warrants.

Little is known about the nature of the investigation, which involves the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the Internal Revenue Service. A judge approved a search warrant last month that enabled the government to seize $454,000 from the company’s primary bank account. Agents also took books, records and computer files from the company under a second warrant. No criminal or civil charges have been filed.

Investigators have not released the affidavits and testimony used to justify the warrants, or allowed the company or its lawyers to see them. U.S. District Judge Linda Reade determined last week that those materials should remain secret because their release “may compromise an ongoing investigation.”

She also rejected the company’s request to unfreeze its bank account, saying it could seek other sources of money such as personal loans.

In court documents, Midamar said information it obtained suggests the government is looking into accusations that it packaged meat as being halal, or prepared in accordance with Islamic rituals, when it was not. Halal typically requires meat to be butchered in a certain way by a religious figure or under the supervision of one.

Rasheed Ahmed, president of the Muslim Consumer Group for Food Products, said Midamar has told him that it sells chicken and turkey products that have been slaughtered by machine, rather than hand. Most Islamic scholars would not consider that halal, but some would as long as steps such as prayers were included, he said.

Rabbi Sholem Fishbane of the Chicago Rabbinical Council, which certifies food as kosher, or prepared according to Jewish laws, said his group is monitoring the case because while the government can bring fraud charges if a company slapped kosher or halal labels on ordinary meat, that would be different than the government arguing the ritual didn’t meet religious tests.