IARA appeals case to Supreme Court

The agency wants its funds released.
Friday, May 25, 2007 | 12:00 a.m. CDT; updated 8:54 a.m. CDT, Friday, July 18, 2008

Nearly three years after the U.S. Treasury Department first froze its assets, the Columbia-based Islamic American Relief Agency-USA has asked the U.S. Supreme Court to hear its case.

The U.S. government accused the agency of illegally transferring more than $1 million to Iraq, stealing government and public money and misrepresenting its fundraising goals. The agency described itself as a charity that provided funds for relief and development in areas including Africa and the Balkan Peninsula.

The request was filed by IARA-USA’s attorney, Shereef Akeel, following a February ruling by Judge David Sentelle of the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals upholding the government’s actions in freezing the agency’s assets.

The issue at hand is which of two tests the government should use to determine if two organizations are affiliated. The Supreme Court has never addressed the issue. The D.C. court has used both tests in the past.

Akeel said he is optimistic that the nation’s highest court will review the case because it presents the Supreme Court with an opportunity to decide an unsettled point of law.

The government had contended that IARA-USA was a branch of another organization called the Islamic African Relief Agency, which is located in the Sudan and had been designated by the Treasury Department as a terrorist organization. On Oct. 13, 2004, the same day it designated the Sudanese relief agency a “specially designated global terrorist,” federal agents raided IARA-USA’s Columbia headquarters and froze its assets. As previously reported by the Missourian, 13 law enforcement agencies participated in the raid. Agents seized 14 computers, several boxes and two vans.

Akeel said the D.C. Appellate Court’s ruling cannot be justified under existing law. He is asking the Supreme Court to apply a test, previously articulated by the D.C. Court of Appeals, that would require the government to prove the existence of a principal-agent relationship between the Columbia-based and Sudanese agencies. Under this test, the government would have to prove the two organizations had the same leadership structure and that one controls the other, Akeel said.

“But there isn’t any evidence of that,” Akeel said.

The Court of Appeals, however, held that a showing of “domination or control” was not necessary because the government was not arguing that the Sudanese agency directed or controlled IARA-USA, but rather that the agencies “comprised a single global organization,” according to the court opinion. The government argued their relationship was more analogous to “one between different offices of the same entity.”

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