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Further news of raids against agencies that allow Iraqi refugees to send funds to family members remaining in Iraq ... These raids occurred simultaneously in 14 US cities and involved three federal agencies plus local law enforcement. Of note: (1) The raids' humanitarian impact will be immediate and may be severe. One estimate has $6-7 billion in such transfers occurring annually - a significant chunk of Iraq's civilian economy. (2) No claim is being made that al-Qaida is skimming money from such transfers (as in earlier raids against Somali transfer agents). Rather, the raids are claimed to derive solely from enforcement of a 1990 executive order signed by President Bush. Following are stories from the AP, Minneapolis StarTribune (note mention of sanctions as context), and the Detroit Free Press (home of the US' largest Arab population). Regards, Drew Hamre Golden Valley, MN USA === http://dailynews.yahoo.com/h/ap/20020220/pl/customs_money_1.html Wednesday February 20 2:10 PM ET Money-Transfer Agents Raided By JEANNINE AVERSA, Associated Press Writer WASHINGTON (AP) - Money-transfer agents in 14 states were raided in an effort to stop the illegal wiring of millions of dollars to Iraq, the government said Wednesday. U.S. Customs Service Commissioner Robert Bonner said 29 search warrants on businesses and individuals were used, allowing law enforcement agents to seize documents and records. The identities of the businesses and individuals were not disclosed and no one was arrested. The government believes the targeted businesses and individuals served as money-transfer agents for Al-Shafei Family Connect Inc., a money-wiring business that allows Iraqi immigrants in the United States to send money back home. Customs has accused the company of sending millions of dollars to Iraq in violation of a decade-old embargo. Customs raided the company's Seattle-area office last month. During that search of Al-Shafei Family Connect, customs agents found files labeled with the names of individual agents of AFCI around the United States, Customs said. A 1990 executive order signed by former President Bush (news - web sites) forbids Americans from transferring money to the Iraqi government or its people. Customs said the individuals and businesses targeted Wednesday also are under investigation for possible violations of anti-money laundering laws and possible violations of regulations requiring money-service businesses to register with the government. The searches took place in Buffalo, N.Y.; Chicago; Louisville, Ky.; Dallas; Detroit; Memphis, Tenn.; Minneapolis; Norfolk, Va.; Erie, Pa.; Portland, Ore.; Lincoln, Neb.; St. Louis; Tucson, Ariz., and Seattle. The Internal Revenue Service (news - web sites), Secret Service, Immigration and Naturalization Service and state and local law enforcement officials took part. === http://www.startribune.com/stories/462/1642016.html Brooklyn Park man says he won't send money to Iraq any more Howie Padilla and David Peterson Star Tribune (Minneapolis, Minnesota USA) Published Feb 22, 2002 For the past several years, Adil Al-Hashimi has helped Iraqi refugees send money to families left behind in the country he and his family fled seven years ago. Thursday afternoon he said his money shipping days are over. The Brooklyn Park duplex his family rents was one of eight Twin Cities homes and businesses searched Wednesday as part of a 14-state crackdown on money being illegally sent to Iraq. After the raid on the duplex, authorities asked Al-Hashimi to sign a piece of paper saying he would no longer send funds. Torn between what he feels is morally right and the laws of the land he now calls home, Al-Hashimi signed the document. As he talked about the raid, Al-Hashimi's voice went from audible frustration to near silent worry. "I feel bad for all the families over there who need help, especially mine." The investigation into the transactions began in Washington state last month with Hussain Al-Shafei. In a suit he filed to prevent Bank of America from closing his accounts, Al-Shafei submitted a court affidavit stating that "approximately 80 percent to 90 percent of Iraqi refugees in the United States use Al-Shafei Family Connect, Inc. to send money to their family members in Iraq." Transfers of funds to Iraq have been barred for more than a decade under the International Economic Powers Act, other laws and two executive orders signed in 1990 by President George Bush. In the Brooklyn Park duplex Thursday, Al-Hashimi said he didn't know he had done anything wrong. "It's not like I'm sending $5,000 to my family," he said. "I send what I can when I can. A hundred dollars or fifty dollars . . . it's not a lot of money." Al-Hashimi said he has never met Al-Shafei, but has spoken to him by telephone often. Al-Hashimi said Al-Shafei led him to believe that he was licensed and that everything was legal. Generally, families would bring money to Al-Hashimi, who would convert it to money orders and send it to Al-Shafei. A few days later, their families in Iraq would get the money. A U.S. Customs Service official in Chicago said Thursday that he understands what refugees are trying to do, but sympathy doesn't make the money transactions any more legal. "On a human level, we're sympathetic," Brian Moskowitz said. "Those are admirable things to want to help with. But as law-enforcers, we're charged with enforcing the law, not making the policies." Leaders in Minnesota's tiny Iraqi community denounced Wednesday's federal raids as a move that will do nothing to hurt America's enemies in that country and a great deal to harm its friends. Refugees sending money to their families "are people who left Iraq because they are scared of the regime," said Abbas Mehdi, a St. Cloud State University sociologist who leads an organization opposed to Iraqi President Saddam Hussein. "Many were brought here by the U.S. government. The money goes to help ordinary people in Iraq -- the people the U.S. government claims to want to help." Definitive word from Census 2000 as to the size of the area's Iraqi community won't be in until later this year. But a Census Bureau survey places the number preliminarily at fewer than 500. Local activists say it is higher than that, perhaps in the 1,000 range. Although some Iraqi immigrants asked that their names not be used, they were unanimous in saying that it is routine for them to find ways to get cash to their families, and they did not realize it might not be legal for them to do so. Mehdi, who leads the Union of Independent Iraqis in Minnesota, said it is a very serious humanitarian issue. "The whole country really depends on money from overseas, not just from the U.S. but others who have left and send money. I have heard that six to seven billion dollars is sent each year, and that is how people there survive. In my case, I have parents there, who are 83 and 84 years old, and need someone to help them. Sometimes it's money, sometimes it's food, medicine, clothing, these kinds of things." American peace activists also expressed concern about the raids. Said Marie Braun, of Minneapolis, cofounder of the Twin Cities Campaign to Lift the Sanctions: "Our sanctions are killing thousands of people a month. I am a family and child therapist, and it's something I couldn't ignore." Braun has traveled to Iraq several times despite a U.S. travel ban and has given perhaps 120 talks in colleges, churches, homes, workshops, "anywhere I'm invited," she said. "It's so hard to get the word out. "When you think about how we felt about the World Trade Center," she said, "in Iraq 3,000 to 5,000 people die every month, and there is 70 percent unemployment, and they're talking about bombing again a country that has already been bombed into the Third World." At the College of St. Catherine in St. Paul on Thursday about 50 people watched a 20-minute video about the life Iraqi refugees fled. Rose Stenglein said the movie was shocking and more disturbing than the images of life in Iraq that she had seen on television. The 20-year-old St. Paul resident said she would like to make a difference. She started by pinning a bright yellow stop-sanctions-in-Iraq button on her right sleeve. As Al-Hashimi's wife recalled Wednesday's raid -- in which she said authorities broke down the front door and went room to room with their guns drawn -- it brought back horrific memories. "We came to this country to get away from Saddam Hussein," Tania Tama said through an interpreter. "We hate him. But yesterday they acted just like he would." Worried about her mother and father in Iraq, Tama said even if she had the money to send home, she now has no idea how she would go about doing it. She said the raid has not curbed her desire to help her family. "If they want me to stop sending money, they will have to bring my mother and father here," she said. Staff writer Lucy Y. Her contributed to this story. -- Howie Padilla is at firstname.lastname@example.org .-- David Peterson is email@example.com . === http://www.startribune.com/stories/1405/1639262.html Searches seek data on cash links between Twin Cities, Iraq Pam Louwagie, Greg Gordon and Howie Padilla Star Tribune (Minneapolis, Minnesota USA) Published Feb 21, 2002 Federal agents led searches of eight Twin-Cities area businesses and homes early Wednesday morning in an investigation of illegal money transfers to Iraq, authorities said. Agents with search warrants seized financial records at one metro-area business and two residences, said Brian Moskowitz, a U.S. Customs official. In five other places, mostly residences, people agreed to allow federal agents and local authorities inside, he said. Nobody was arrested in Minnesota or 13 other states in which searches were conducted. Four of the searches were in Minneapolis. Others were in Brooklyn Park, Blaine, Coon Rapids and Bloomington, said Moskowitz, associate special agent in charge of the Customs office of investigations in Chicago. Some of the people and businesses are suspected of acting as agents for a company in Washington state whose owner said in court papers that Iraqi refugees use his business to send money to relatives in Iraq. Authorities suspect that some of those searched locally worked with the company to send money on behalf of others, Moskowitz said. Unlike a law enforcement strike last fall against a money-transfer company that moves money to Somalia from Minneapolis and other cities, authorities said there was no indication that the money was financing terrorists. Transfers of funds to Iraq have been barred for more than a decade under the International Economic Powers Act, other laws and two executive orders signed in 1990 by President George Bush. Besides facing possible criminal penalties for violating the embargo against Iraq, those targeted are under investigation for possibly violating laws against money laundering and regulations that require money-service businesses to register with the government as of Dec. 31. Not everyone who agreed to a search Wednesday is necessarily a target of the investigation. Moskowitz said Wednesday's actions were "just the beginning" of the investigation. Authorities wouldn't say how much money might have come out of Minnesota, but Customs officials said bank records indicate that the Washington company, Al-Shafei Family Connect Inc., sent more than $15 million to Jordan and other nations around the globe in 1999 and 2000. The business' owner, Hussain Al-Shafei, said in court papers that he asked a bank to wire money to Jordan because it couldn't be sent directly to Iraq due to the trade embargo, according to a Customs Service news release. Although estimates of Iraqi immigrants in the Twin Cities area weren't available Wednesday, state records indicate that 62 refugees arrived in Minnesota between 1979 and 1996. Letters, photos seized A man whose north Minneapolis home was searched said Wednesday afternoon that authorities had confiscated his family's passports and papers showing he'd become a citizen last year. Authorities rummaged through his books, took letters -- some written in Arabic -- videotapes and a family photo album, but said they would return the items. The resident, a refugee from Iraq who has been in the United States for about six years, said that when he could, he would send small sums of money to Iraq through the Al-Shafei company to help his nine brothers, three sisters and father. No receipts were ever exchanged. and the amounts were never more than $50, but his family always received the money, he said. The man, who asked not to be named because he feared for his safety, said he thought the business closed about five weeks ago. "He told us that he was licensed to handle the money and that everything was fine," the man said of Al-Shafei, who kept part of the money for the service. "I didn't know it was illegal." When the Minneapolis man told authorities Wednesday morning that he had sent money, his wife asked if the couple had done anything wrong. "They told us that as long as he was telling the truth, he would be fine," she said Wednesday afternoon. The Customs Service began looking into Al-Shafei earlier this year after Seattle newspapers ran articles describing a dispute between Hussain Al-Shafei and the Bank of America. When the bank informed Al-Shafei it was closing his account, he filed a discrimination suit and won a court order temporarily blocking the action. But in an affidavit he filed in support of his suit, Al-Shafei stated that "approximately 80 percent to 90 percent of Iraqi refugees in the United States use Al-Shafei Family Connect, Inc. to send money to their family members in Iraq." He also stated: "It is not possible to send the money directly to Iraq because of the trade embargo." Customs agents also found records identifying agents of the business around the United States and specific transactions in which they sent money to the business for transfer to countries around the globe, including Iraq. In court affidavits, Customs agents said Al-Shafei, who drives a Mercedes, set up business accounts with the Bank of America, U.S. Bank, Citibank and Comerica Bank. On Wednesday authorities also searched businesses and residences in Buffalo, N.Y.; Chicago; Louisville; Dallas; Detroit; Memphis; Norfolk, Va.; Erie, Pa.; Portland, Ore.; Lincoln, Neb.; St. Louis; Tucson, Ariz., and Seattle. -- Staff writer David Chanen contributed to this report.-- Pam Louwagie is at firstname.lastname@example.org . === http://www.freep.com/news/nw/iraq21_20020221.htm U.S. raids get evidence about cash sent to Iraq 4 homes in the Detroit area are part of the search February 21, 2002 BY JIM SCHAEFER FREE PRESS STAFF WRITER (Detroit, Michigan USA) Federal agents raided four homes in metro Detroit on Wednesday as part of a 14-state crackdown on the funneling of millions of dollars to people and companies in Iraq. Michael Holt, acting special agent in charge of U.S. Customs in Detroit, said four local people were suspected of acting as agents for Al-Shafei Family Connect Inc. near Seattle. The money-transmitting business was established in 1999 and many refugees used it to send money to relatives in Iraq. Money transfers to Iraq violate a 1990 executive order from then-President George Bush that prohibits financial transactions with the government of Iraqi President Saddam Hussein or anyone else inside the Middle Eastern country. In all, federal agents went to 29 businesses and people in the 14 states. Agents collected evidence, but no one was arrested or charged. None of the individuals was identified. Holt said three raids were in Detroit and one in a suburb that he would not identify. Holt said agents were looking for bank notes, deposit slips and other financial documents. He said the four local targets were cooperative. It is unknown how much money was transferred from Michigan, Holt said, but in 1999 and 2000 the Seattle company's overall business transmitted more than $15 million to the Middle East and elsewhere, officials said. Critics of the U.S. policy about money to Iraq say it creates undue suffering among Iraqis. Authorities are tracking where the money transmitted through Al-Shafei Family Connect went, Holt said. "There's no information that links it" to terrorism, he said. The investigation into the company began in January after its owner, Hussain Al-Shafei, filed court papers in Seattle in an unrelated civil lawsuit that admitted his business was circumventing the policy about money to Iraq, officials said. Al-Shafei, a naturalized American born in Iraq, described how he pooled the money every few days and then sent it to a bank in Jordan for later transport to Iraq. In a news release, customs officials quoted Al-Shafei's civil suit court documents. "Approximately 80 to 90 percent of Iraqi refugees in the United States use Al-Shafei Family Connect Inc. to send money to their family members in Iraq," Al-Shafei wrote. Holt said the investigation was prompted by those court admissions, not by the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks against the United States. Search warrants also were carried out in Buffalo, N.Y.; Chicago; Louisville, Ky.; Dallas; Memphis, Tenn.; Minneapolis; Norfolk, Va.; Erie, Penn.; Portland, Ore.; Lincoln, Neb.; St. Louis, and Tucson, Ariz. The Seattle offices of Family Connect Inc. were raided Jan. 31. Contact JIM SCHAEFER at 313-223-4542 or email@example.com -- ----------------------------------------------------------------------- This is a discussion list run by the Campaign Against Sanctions on Iraq For removal from list, email firstname.lastname@example.org CASI's website - www.casi.org.uk - includes an archive of all postings.