- The Washington Times - Tuesday, October 16, 2001

Agents from the Maryland Comptroller's Office, who earlier this month alerted the FBI of possible links between cigarette smugglers and terrorist organizations, have arrested two more suspected smugglers and say the problem is more widespread than initially thought.
"We've been saying all along that there is organized crime involved in this," said Michael D. Golden, a spokesman for the comptroller's office. "We believe that this is a much bigger problem than the numbers indicate so far."
Agents working undercover for Comptroller William Donald Schaefer on Thursday arrested two men transporting 4,660 packs of untaxed cigarettes worth more than $16,962 from Virginia into Maryland.
"When William Donald Schaefer came into office, he put a real priority on enforcing this," Mr. Golden said. "After the Sept. 11 attacks, we're being mindful of the fact that the smugglers might have links to terrorist organizations."
Two weeks ago, Mr. Schaefer turned over to the FBI the names of 212 persons suspected by his office of smuggling cigarettes to fund terrorist activities.
Sixty-one of the 212 suspects have been arrested for smuggling cigarettes, according to documents released by the comptroller's office. All 61 have names that appear to be of Arabic or Middle Eastern origin.
Mr. Golden said the comptroller's office began suspecting links to terrorist groups last March when federal prosecutors in Charlotte, N.C., indicted four persons with ties to a Lebanese cigarette-smuggling ring supplying cash and military equipment radar devices and night-vision goggles to the guerrilla group Hezbollah.
Hezbollah was created in Lebanon during the early 1980s with the help of Iran to fight the Israeli invasion of Lebanon. After Israel's withdrawal from Lebanon in May 2000, the movement grew in popularity, becoming a major influence in Lebanese political spheres.
Mr. Golden said cigarette smugglers make their money by purchasing cigarettes in low tobacco-tax states such as Virginia, then reselling them illegally in high tobacco-tax states such as Maryland.
Virginia has a cigarette tax of 2.5 cents per pack. In Maryland, the tax is 36 cents per pack.
Arrested Thursday were Issam Nazzal Abu Jamous and Maji Nazal Abu Jamous, both of Richmond. The two were driving a 2000 Dodge Intrepid purportedly stuffed with cigarettes bought in Virginia when agents stopped them at Interstate 495 and Route 210 in Oxon Hill.
The agents had followed them, watching the pair buy the cigarettes, pack them into the car and drive across the state line, apparently with intent to resell, Mr. Golden said.
The vehicle was seized and both men were charged with transportation of untaxed cigarettes, a felony that carries a two-year jail sentence and/or $50 per-carton fine.
During fiscal 2001, which ended June 30, state agents arrested 73 suspected cigarette smugglers and seized more than 210,000 packs of cigarettes, valued at more than $770,000. So far this year, agents have arrested 12 suspected smugglers.
Last year, the head of the U.S. Customs Service told Congress that cigarette imports into the United States surged in 1999, and that profits from cigarette smuggling now rival those from drug trafficking.
"We expect to see more arrests in the future. Basically, we're chipping away at this right now. Cigarette smuggling is getting bigger than illegal drugs," Mr. Golden said. "The cigarettes can be bought legally and sold illegally."
Margie Hyslop contributed to this article.

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