Friday, December 20, 2002

U.S. Customs Service agents have dismantled a global underground wire-transfer network that illegally funneled $12 million in cash and goods to Iraq in violation of the U.S. embargo against Saddam Hussein’s government, Customs Commissioner Robert C. Bonner said yesterday.

A Seattle company and 12 persons in Iraq, Jordan, the United Arab Emirates (UAE), Great Britain and the United States were named in a grand jury indictment handed up Wednesday and unsealed yesterday in U.S. District Court in Seattle.

They were accused of money laundering and conspiracy to launder money in violation of the International Emergency Economic Powers Act.

“These indictments and arrests are a significant law enforcement achievement, part of the ongoing efforts to block the flow of all illegal funds to embargoed countries like Iraq,” Mr. Bonner said during an afternoon press conference. “The message here is that we are serious about investigating and prosecuting anyone who violates the embargo against Iraq.

“It is against U.S. law to send any money, funds, directly or indirectly, or goods to Iraq, and we intend to enforce the law,” he said.

Six persons were taken into custody during early-morning raids yesterday in Seattle, Nashville, Tenn., St. Louis, Dallas, Phoenix and Roanoke. The act prohibits sending money or goods to Iraq, a country that is subject to a U.S. embargo, and has been since August 1990.

Mr. Bonner said investigators still are trying to determine whether any of the illegally transferred cash or the unidentified goods purchased with the money may have been used to bankroll terrorist activities or to purchase weapons of mass destruction.

“I can’t say right now that we have any connection,” he said, “but you can’t rule it out.”

Those arrested were Hussein Al-Shafei in Seattle, Malik Almaliki in Roanoke, Kaalid Amen in St. Louis, Salam Said Alkhursan in Dallas, Ali Noor Alsutani in Nashville, and Ali Almarhoun in Phoenix. They are accused of conspiring with and at the direction of Mr. Al-Shafei in his unlicensed money-service business, known as Al-Shafei Family Connect Inc. in Seattle.

The Al-Shafei Family Connect is a money-transfer business that Iraqi immigrants and others use to send cash to family and friends in other countries, authorities said.

The indictment, which identified Mr. Al-Shafei as an Iraqi native and naturalized U.S. citizen, includes one count of conspiracy to launder money and 34 counts of money laundering.

It said money was transferred from the United States to England, India, Canada, Brazil, Taiwan, Egypt, Jordan and the UAE, and then to Iraq. The funds eventually were sent to an Iraqi business known as Al-Nour Trading, run by a man whose last name is Fakher and whose alias is Abu Haider, the indictment said.

Mr. Bonner said customs agents, during a yearlong undercover investigation, discovered that the co-conspirators routed nearly $28 million in cash and goods out of the United States over a span of about 30 months, up until about the early part of this year $12 million of which found its way into Iraq through third-party intermediaries.

The 1990 embargo said the policies and actions of the government of Iraq contributed an “extraordinary threat to the national security of the United States.”

“Make no mistake we will continue doing everything in our power to prevent Iraq and any other rogue nation or, for that matter, terrorist group from acquiring the means to threaten our nation, our people or our way of life,” Mr. Bonner said. “We will keep illegal funds out of their wallets and illegal commodities out of their hands.”

The ongoing investigation is part of Operation Green Quest, a Customs-led multiagency task force aimed at identifying, attacking and disrupting the sources of financing for international terrorist organizations.

The indictment also names: Ali Mohammud Ali Abbas of Jordan; Haider Amer Fakher of Iraq; Hashim Mohsin Almosawi of Everett, Wash.; Abdulilah Hamid Daoud of London; Ahmed Fayadh Kathe of Dubai, UAE; and the man whose last name is Fakher and goes by Abu Haider, and resides in Iraq.

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