- The Washington Times - Friday, June 11, 2004

DALLAS — Five Palestinian brothers were unfairly targeted by the federal government because they conducted business with Syria and Libya and are Muslims, said defense attorneys for the five men, who are charged with 25 counts of exporting contraband to nations linked to terrorism.

Charges against the Elashi brothers include the exportation of computers and computer equipment to the two nations by the Dallas-area company InfoCom from 1999 to 2002. The trial began Thursday.

Opening statements by the prosecution asserted that InfoCom executives knew they were violating regulations and, additionally, that they made numerous false statements on export documents.

Though government lawyers refused comment, an official of the Commerce Department said earlier that the charges were brought partly because of the brothers’ purported connection to known terrorists.

The government raided and closed down the Holy Land Foundation for Relief and Development in the Dallas suburb of Richardson in late 2001.

Justice Department lawyer Barry Jonas told jurors the materials in question could have been used for military purposes.

Most of the day’s testimony was technical, explaining how such export deals are handled, what is required and what actions usually are forthcoming against those who fail to file proper documentation.

But defense lawyers have said that many U.S. companies had made similar deals involving the same nations during the time involved in the indictments, but incurred little or no penalties.

Tim Evans, attorney for Ghassan Elashi, said his client and the other Elashi brothers — Bayan, Basman, Hazim and Ihsan — are victims of the Bush administration’s extreme interest in terrorism, which doesn’t always treat companies fairly.

He said that most of the time violations of the type concerned in this case result in a civil fine.

“The government gets to decide whether to merely assess a regulatory fine or to charge shipping violations as crimes,” Mr. Evans told the Houston Chronicle before a gag order was issued to people involved in case. “Unfortunately, many members of our government have chosen to twist, spin and exaggerate facts in order to claim victories in what they describe as the quote, ‘war of terrorism.’”

One lawyer not connected to the trial but watching with keen interest, recalled a 1995 deal that involved Halliburton, the Houston-based oil field services firm. In that case, Halliburton shipped sophisticated oil drilling equipment to Libya that U.S. officials asserted could have been used to help make nuclear weapons. Halliburton paid $3.8 million in fines and civil penalties.

The present trial is but a warm-up for perhaps a more intriguing trial later this year. In that, the Elashis will face charges they funneled money to the Palestinian militant group Hamas — money that purportedly was used to benefit the families of known terrorists.

Attorney General John Ashcroft announced the original indictments in December 2002.

The indictments said that the brothers had funneled more than $100,000 to Moussa Abu Marzouk, Hamas’ deputy political director, through Marzouk’s wife — a cousin of the defendants — and secretly invested $250,000 in InfoCom in 1992 and received 40 percent of the firm’s stock.

The Marzouks were also indicted in this case, but have eluded capture and are believed to be in Syria.

Coming up in the trial, several government wiretaps will be shared with jurors, including at least one that shows — according to government sources — that Ghassan Elashi talked “specifics” with Hamas leader Shakri Abu Baker.

Ghassan Elashi, who headed the Muslim charity, has denied any money went to terrorists or criminals. Neither he nor any of the trial participants can comment on the matter until completion of the trial.

“I don’t want to get crosswise with the judge,” he added.

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