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N.C. Lawyer Wraps Up Smuggling Case

June 18, 2002

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CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) _ A case charging two Lebanese men with running a cigarette smuggling ring that supported the militant group Hezbollah boils down to one letter, a federal prosecutor said during closing arguments Tuesday.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Ken Bell cited a February 1997 letter to defendant Mohamad Hammoud from a man named Abu Adams. In the letter, Adams asks that Hammoud collect money for the Lebanese resistance _ as he has done in the past.

``If that happened, as Abu Adams said, then these defendants are guilty of running a Hezbollah support cell in Charlotte,″ Bell told jurors.

The defense’s closing argument was expected later Tuesday and the case was expected to go to the jury Wednesday.

Only Mohamad Hammoud is charged with providing material support to Hezbollah. He and his brother, Chawki Hammoud, are both accused of cigarette smuggling, money laundering and credit card fraud.

Under a 1996 anti-terrorism law, it is illegal to provide such support to Hezbollah and other groups and individuals designated terrorists by the State Department.

Bell told jurors that a tobacco store owned by Chawki Hammoud was the center of a conspiracy that smuggled cheap North Carolina cigarettes to Michigan for resale without paying that state’s higher taxes.

``Unless he’s a potted plant over there, he’s right in the middle of this,″ Bell said of Chawki Hammoud. ``He ran cigarette central.″

Mohamad Hammoud testified last week that he grew up a poor town in southern Lebanon and had sympathies for Hezbollah. However, he denied running a Hezbollah cell in Charlotte.

Chawki Hammoud, 37, faces a lighter sentence than Mohamad Hammoud, 28, who could spend the rest of his life in prison if convicted of all counts.

U.S. District Judge Graham Mullen read a two-hour, 35-minute jury instruction Monday. Normally, the judge’s instructions follow final arguments, but lawyers for both sides asked Mullen to instruct the jury first to allow them to better understand the final legal arguments.

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