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4 Chicago businesses, homes raided in illegal transfers to Iraq (AP)

By Jeannine Aversa
Associated Press
Published February 20, 2002, 5:10 PM CST

WASHINGTON -- Two businesses and two homes in Chicago were among money-transfer agents raided in 14 states in an effort to stop the illegal wiring of millions of dollars to Iraq, the government said today.
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.

In Chicago, agents served search warrants on two businesses and two homes, said Brian Moskowitz, associate special agent in charge of the Customs Service in Chicago. He declined to say where the raids took place.

But he said that "there is no information that I’m aware of that that ties this to any kind of terrorist activity."

"This is purely Customs exercizing our authority to enforce the Iraqi sanctions regulations under the International Emergency Economic Powers Act," he said, adding it was too early to know the value of materials confiscated in the Chicago raids.

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 forbids Americans from transferring money — directly or indirectly — 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.

Adel Al-Absawi, owner of Sara’s Market in Erie, said law enforcement officials raided his store early Wednesday and took all of his paperwork, including receipts, tax papers, mail and bank statements. Al-Absawi, who was unsure what, if anything, he had done wrong, said he began wiring money with Al-Shafei about 1 1/2 years ago. He said Al-Shafei wired money to Jordan, Egypt and Somalia.

Customs has said that Al-Shafei wired money intended for recipients in Iraq to a bank in Jordan.

The Internal Revenue Service, Secret Service, Immigration and Naturalization Service and state and local law enforcement officials took part.

Copyright © 2002, Chicago Tribune



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