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Va. Man Charged in Mideast Funds Transfer

March 16, 2005

WASHINGTON (AP) _ A Virginia man was charged Wednesday with illegally wiring millions of dollars to Syria, Iraq, Lebanon and other nations.

Louay Habbal allegedly wired more than $23 million from Mena Exchange, an unlicensed money transfer business he ran from his home in suburban Vienna, Va., according to an indictment unsealed Wednesday in the U.S. district court in Alexandria, Va.

Authorities said no terror charges have been brought against Habbal, but the investigation is continuing.

Between November 2001 and July 2004, officials said, Habbal deposited funds from worldwide customers in a Virginia bank account. After taking out his fee, Habbal transferred the funds to individuals designated by his customers in Syria, Iraq, Lebanon, Sudan, Britain and France.

U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement investigators seized more than $100,000 from the Mena Exchange bank account.

Habbal, 45, is a naturalized U.S. citizen from Syria. He was arrested late Tuesday at Dulles Airport as he returned from Syria and was charged with operating a money transmittal business without a license.

Under the anti-terror USA Patriot Act, which was signed into law a month after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, money transfer businesses must be licensed with the Treasury Department.

Habbal was released after Wednesday’s hearing on condition of wearing an electronic monitoring device.