COLUMBIA — The U.S. Supreme Court has declined to review a lower court’s decision to leave frozen the assets of the Columbia-based Islamic American Relief Agency-USA.
The U.S. Treasury Department first froze the agency’s assets about three years ago after it said the group was affiliated with the Sudan-based Islamic African Relief Agency, which the government classified as a terrorist organization.
The high court denied review of the case Oct. 1. The denial, posted on the court’s Web site several days later, signals an end to the IARA-USA’s quest to regain access to its funds.
The U.S. government accused the agency of illegally transferring more than $1 million to Iraq. Shereef Akeel, the Columbia-based agency’s lawyer, said the government is alleging that IARA-USA failed to obtain a license to send funds to Iraq in the 1990s.
The agency is also accused of stealing government and public money and misrepresenting its fundraising goals. The agency described itself as a humanitarian organization that provided aid to famine-stricken areas of Africa.
In October 2004, the FBI and several other federal and local law enforcement agencies raided the IARA-USA’s headquarters behind Walgreens on Broadway. Agents removed scores of boxes, 14 computers and two vans from the brick building at 201 E. Cherry St. The U.S. Treasury Department froze the agency’s assets, totaling almost $1.4 million, under an executive order signed by President Bush on Sept. 23, 2001. The order, meant to disrupt funding to terrorist organizations, purported to give the U.S. government “a powerful tool to impede terrorist funding and is part of our national commitment to lead the international effort to bring a halt to the evil of terrorist activity.”
Akeel, the agency’s Michigan-based lawyer, said the order gives the administrative branch of the U.S. government the power to freeze an organization’s funds without any check on its power.
He said that while he was disappointed that the high court declined to review the case, he respects the rule of law. But, he said, the real victims of the decision are the intended recipients of the charity’s funds.
“It’s unfortunate that for the last three years I’ve been trying to have the funds released under government control to be distributed to its intended recipients,” Akeel said. “This whole process did not serve to combat our war against terror. The only thing it did was to undermine our war against famine in Africa.”
Douglas Abrams, a professor at the MU School of Law, noted that the Supreme Court reviews far fewer cases than it did 25 years ago. “In recent years, (the court) has granted only about 10 percent of the petitions (for review of a lower court’s decision) that are filed in any given year,” said “A denial (to review a case) is not a statement about the merits of the case.”
In a separate criminal case, the U.S. Attorney indicted five men affiliated with the Columbia-based agency and one other man on charges of money laundering, violations of acts prohibiting the transfer of funds to Iraq without a license, theft of public money, and tax code violations. All five men — Mubarak Hamed and Ahmad Mustafa, both of Columbia, Ali Mohamed Bagegni, an Iowa resident formerly of Columbia, and Abdel Azim El-Saddiq, of Palos Heights, Ill. — were arrested and released on bond, said Don Ledford, a spokesman for the U.S. Attorney’s office. The sixth man, Khalid Al-Sudanee, of Jordan, may be extradited to the U.S., Ledford said. The case was scheduled to go to trial in November 2008.
When reached by phone, Ahmad Mustafa declined to comment on the advice of his lawyer. Calls to Mubarek Hamed were not returned. The other men could not be reached for comment.
The U.S. Attorney is seeking forfeiture of the IARA-USA’s assets.
Akeel said that in seeking forfeiture of IARA-USA’s assets, the government is depriving starving children in Africa of a lifeline.
In court documents, the U.S. Attorney alleges that IARA-USA is affiliated with the Islamic African Relief Agency, a Sudan-based organization that funnels money to terror organizations.
But Akeel insisted that the Sudan-based agency asserted no control over the Columbia-based charity.
Akeel said the other issue in the case was that the government initially accused IARA-USA of involvement in terrorism, but that it has never offered a shred of evidence of that.
“It’s got nothing to do with terrorism,” Akeel said. “We are going after humanitarians, we are not going after the terrorists.”