Columbia man admits to transferring money to Iraq

Wednesday, December 16, 2009 | 8:40 p.m. CST; updated 10:46 p.m. CST, Wednesday, December 16, 2009

JEFFERSON CITY — A former fundraiser for a Columbia-based Islamic charity pleaded guilty Wednesday to illegally transferring money to Iraq in violation of federal sanctions.

Ahmad Mustafa, 55, of Columbia was one of six people charged in a January 2008 federal indictment, said Acting U.S. Attorney Matt J. Whitworth in a news release. No sentencing date has been set.

The indictment alleged that Mustafa and his co-defendants violated various laws, including money laundering, theft of public money, impairing and impeding the Internal Revenue Service and prohibited transactions with a specially designated global terrorist.

Mustafa worked as a fundraiser for the now-closed Islamic American Relief Agency, headquartered in Columbia. Prosecutors had alleged that he and others transferred $1.4 million to Iraq from March 1991 to May 2003 — when Iraq was under various U.S. and U.N. sanctions.

Prosecutors say he focused his efforts on fundraising while the other defendants sent the money to Iraq "with the help of a Jordanian identified by the U.S. Treasury Department as a specially designated global terrorist."

Federal agents raided the group's headquarters near Providence Road and Broadway in 2004 as part of a criminal investigation. Agents seized cars, truckloads of boxes and 14 computers during the six-hour raid.

The U.S. Treasury Department also froze the group's assets, alleging it was part of a network of organizations that supported terrorism abroad.

Mustafa, through his plea, said he didn't know the organization lacked permission to do business in Iraq. The U.S. agreed his criminal offense is limited to the money sent to his family.

"Today's conviction underscores the commitment by the Department of Justice to uphold economic sanctions imposed in accordance with the president's emergency powers," Whitworth said in the release. "As a matter of national security, we take seriously any violation of these federal sanctions and will prosecute those who engage in this illegal conduct."

Troy K. Stabenow, the attorney listed in court records as representing Mustafa, did not immediately return phone or e-mail messages seeking comment.

Shereef Akeel, a Detroit civil rights lawyer who has represented the Islamic American Relief Agency, has maintained the group has never supported terrorism.

“We’re not prosecuting terrorists here, we’re prosecuting humanitarians,” Akeel said in a September Missourian report.

Akeel could not immediately be reached by phone Wednesday evening.

He has argued that the Columbia charity was improperly linked with the Sudan-based Islamic African Relief Agency. They are not affiliated, he said. He has also said the government violated the charity’s constitutional rights by confiscating its assets without giving it a chance to defend itself.

IARA filed a request in December 2004 in federal court to unfreeze its accounts with the Office of Foreign Assets Control, but the court ruled in favor of the federal government. Two years later, the charity brought its case to the U.S. Court of Appeals, and the court held that its claims were without merit and dismissed the case.

Mustafa faces up to five years in federal prison without parole, plus a fine of up to $250,000.

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