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Two Iraqi Immigrants Plead Innocent

January 9, 2003

SEATTLE (AP) _ Two Iraqi immigrants pleaded innocent to charges they participated in a scheme to illegally send $12 million in cash and goods to Iraq.

Ali Al-Marhoun, 38, of Phoenix, and Malik Almaliki, 34, of Roanoke, Va., were among 12 men indicted on money laundering charges accusing them of violating or conspiring to violate sanctions imposed during the first Bush administration. Six were arrested in this country, and the others were indicted overseas.

Government lawyers say some of the money might have reached struggling families in Iraq, but they maintain that other funds went to finance Iraqi businesses and property.

Federal investigators have not reported finding evidence that any of the money went to support terrorism.

Al-Marhoun’s lawyer, Jim Vonasch, said his client is a convenience store clerk who just wanted to help families in Iraq and didn’t know he was doing anything illegal. Al-Marhoun had been an Iraqi soldier but fled to the United States around the time of the Gulf War, he said.

``The U.S. had a big heart accepting these people, but now what are they supposed to do, let their families starve?″ Vonasch said. ``Innocent people are getting caught up in what I guess is fear of (terrorism).″

The case centers on Alshafei Family Connect Inc., a money-wiring service in Mountlake Terrace. Company owner Hussein Alshafei has yet to be arraigned.

Trial for Al-Marhoun and Malik Almaliki was set for Feb. 18. They pleaded innocent Tuesday.

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