Customs Agents Smash Money-Laundering Ring; Charge 12 with Illegally Funneling Cash, Goods to Iraqis.(NATION)

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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. …