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Gov’t: Suspect Hid Illegal Charity Role

March 9, 2003

SYRACUSE, N.Y. (AP) _ An oncologist accused of leading an illegal charity that sent more than $4 million into Iraq hid his involvement and used some of the money to fund groups that have been tied to terrorism, the government claims in court documents.

The documents were filed this week in support of the Feb. 26 indictment against Dr. Rafil Dhafir, who is among four people charged with conspiring to violate U.S. economic sanctions against Iraq by sending money there through the charity Help The Needy.

Sending aid to Iraq, even for charities, is illegal unless the organization has U.S. government approval, which Help The Needy did not, according to federal prosecutors. The charity lied to donors, too, about being tax-exempt, they said.

Federal investigators allege Dhafir, 55, of Fayetteville, directed and controlled the Syracuse-based organization even though he is not named on any of the charity’s public documents or bank records.

Mark Sweeney, a special agent with the Internal Revenue Service, said in the documents that Dhafir disguised his activities by instructing others to open accounts and handle deposits and withdrawals.

Dhafir’s attorney, Edward Menkin, said Friday that the government’s case is built on unfounded ``concerns and suspicions″ rather than real evidence, but declined to comment on most of the specific allegations.

``The government really doesn’t know what it is looking for,″ Menkin said. Menkin said Help The Needy is strictly a humanitarian-aid group, and is not involved in any illegal activity.

Dhafir, a U.S. citizen born in Iraq, is being held without bail pending trial, as is Ayman Jarwan, a Jordanian citizen who was the charity’s executive director. Osameh Al Wahaidy, a third Syracuse-area man arrested, is free on bail, while a fourth defendant, Maher Zagha, remains at large in Jordan.

The men are not accused of any terrorist activity.

Investigators said it has been difficult to track the money sent to Iraq and how it was used. About $4.7 million in Help the Needy funds were transferred to Zagha’s accounts in neighboring Jordan, Sweeney wrote.

Sweeney wrote that Help The Needy did help feed people in Iraq during Muslim holidays, but that the money tracked so far used for that purpose amounts to a small fraction of the more than $5.5 million the group deposited in its U.S. accounts since 1995.

The investigator also said Help The Needy sent checks totaling nearly $42,000 to a pair of now-outlawed charities, Global Relief Foundation and the Benevolence International Foundation.

Treasury officials have seized the assets of both groups after designating them as organizations that finance terrorism, and the director of Benevolence International pleaded guilty last month to funneling money to Muslim fighters in Chechnya and Bosnia.

Menkin said Help The Needy’s contributions were made before the terrorism allegations were brought to light.

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