While shutting down a money-wiring service
November 10, 2001 11:22 AM   Subscribe

While shutting down a money-wiring service in Seattle, U.S. Customs officials also took the time to destroy the entire inventory -- $300,000 worth -- of the Somali grocery store attached to it. That'll show 'em!
posted by argybarg (26 comments total)
Hmm, Al Queda seems to be running a hitheto undiscovered recruitng cell out of the US Customs Service. Man, they are slick.
posted by y2karl at 11:33 AM on November 10, 2001

Er, uh, hitherto?
posted by y2karl at 11:34 AM on November 10, 2001

You know, it worries me a little bit that every form of exchanging money that is not government approved and tracked can be called "aiding terrorists." It looks an awful lot like a consolidation of power, perhaps with the best of intentions, but very easily abused.
posted by Nothing at 11:44 AM on November 10, 2001

Last night on Politically Incorrect, Bill Maher was talking about how the diamond industry is perhaps partly funding terrorism in some weird way that he had difficulty defending under scrutiny, even with someone as braindead as Chevy Chase among the panel. He kept talking about how much blood has been shed over a woman's ability to wear rocks around her neck.

Then Arianna Huffington went on about SUVs and how by splurging on gasoline, we're supporting the oil industry, and this is somehow bad too. I think we Americans are having difficulty accepting that we're so rooted into international economics that it's really hard to cut our ties to our own enemies, or even seeing where the tendrils leak from one economy to another.

But seeing the government take such a drastic action against a small business in Seattle, this is just absurd! It's like the climactic scenes in Pleasantville, when the monochromatic people started rioting to protest anything that differed from themselves, without realizing how the whole community was drifting into technicolor.

Since before fundamentalist Christians began boycotting any motion picture which happened to differ from their own beliefs, it's been a sheepflock tendency to punish anything contrary to one's own beliefs by just abandoning it. I've never seen how that's done any good for anyone. And now our government is punishing in a more literal way, but it's not changing the fact that Bin Laden already has about as much money as Bill Gates, give or take a few million here or there.

Many years ago I feared the third world war was already happening, but it was happening through stock purchases and checkbooks. I figured the Middle East and the Far East were just buying America out bit by bit. I assumed communism and nihilism was just legally buying out capitalism. I didn't see anything particularly illegal about it, or even unethical. A legal way to win a war. Not much to be done about it beyond whining.

It's interesting to see that this new war happening now is a combination of conventional warfare, biochemical attacks, and pocketbooks. I think in the long term, dollars and sense will be shown to have much more impact than smart bombs and ground offenses.

Violence is the last refuge for the one that lost the argument.
posted by ZachsMind at 11:47 AM on November 10, 2001

[obligatory orwell reference]
posted by signal at 12:02 PM on November 10, 2001

Violence is the last refuge for the one that lost the argument.

A better way of stating Seldon's Law, which I've always thought was weak, as there are more ways to lose an argument than through incompetence.

I think your Pleasantville simile is dead on. People tend to do more damage resisting change (especially inevitable or de facto change) than is ever done by the changes themselves.
posted by rushmc at 12:15 PM on November 10, 2001

It's no sudden revelation that diamond sales are being used to fund civil wars in Africa. They didn't used to be called "terror" per se but they're among the candidates in the new jargon.

Zach, the Middle East can only invest in America until it runs out of oil. Then, without a producer economy, where will they be? Your fear was widely shared during the 1970s -- I remember breathless articles trying to interest Americans in the dangers of Arab investment, mainly while they were paying attention instead to Japanese investment; and during the Abscam years it got a lot more notice. But then oil prices collapsed, and the Japanese economy collapsed, and that capital flow has receded.

Anyway, back to the Somali grocery. If the business was seized and closed for being part of a corrupt or criminal enterprise, the RICO laws allow confiscation of assets. It happens to people associated with drug dealers all the time.
posted by dhartung at 12:16 PM on November 10, 2001

dhartung, one of the questions is whether they should have seized just the wire transfer business assets or also the assets of the other businesses there (which they did). The owner of the mini mart rented space to two others, one had some sort of travel agency, the other had the wire transfer set up.

If the government goes into a supermarket to seize the assets of the bank branch that's in the store, I bet you won't find them taking out the entire contents of the Kroger's/Safeway/QFC/etc.

himilo.com has links to Somali-related news stories, including the recent raids.
posted by gluechunk at 12:29 PM on November 10, 2001

I think I'd feel a lot better if they at least fiegned to be searching through the heads of lettuce and pizza lunchables for vital clues.
posted by ProfLinusPauling at 3:19 PM on November 10, 2001

i think al-qaida has a bigger goings-on in Sierre Leone then many think. "Diamonds are Forever, forever, forever..."
posted by clavdivs at 4:10 PM on November 10, 2001

When you read about stuff like this, I find that it helps to repeat, in a low voice, the following mantra: "We're the good guys, We're the good guys". Cause we are, aren't we? Aren't we?
posted by Optamystic at 4:54 PM on November 10, 2001

As Dan said, asset forfeiture is nothing new in drug cases. Because Al-Qaeda sends and receives millions through these kinds of under-the-table banking services (hawala), we can expect to see more businesses shut down completely like this in the coming weeks.
posted by rcade at 5:55 PM on November 10, 2001

If my business was connected to one of the ones listed on the popup window that comes with the Office of Foreign Assets Control page, I'd guess that now might be a good time to let the inventory go low.

A article from the Asian Times Website, on the financing of terrorists, called Islamic terrorists' budgets , has the following to say of that listing:

"The OFAC on its website (www.ustreas.gov) publishes a comprehensive and frequently updated list of targeted organizations and individuals - whose only drawback may be that it is easily as useful to the targets as to the trackers. "

The Barrakat Wire Transfer company was on that list as follows:

"BARAKAT WIRE TRANSFER COMPANY, 4419 S. Brandon St., Seattle, Washington, U.S.A. [SDGT]"

It is sad to see people harmed in this manner. Is the cure in this case more offensive than the remedy required? The financing of terrorism needs to be stopped, but the approach described in the article seems both heavy handed, and short sighted. Is there something we aren't being told? Was this destruction and seizure of assets done in this manner to frighten others, without concern for the damage to the actual individuals involved?
posted by bragadocchio at 7:19 PM on November 10, 2001

Like shutting down the drugstore because they have Western Union in it.

Not really surprising considering how frantic these investigations have been treading water lately though.
posted by syscom at 7:34 PM on November 10, 2001

Like shutting down the drugstore because they have Western Union in it.

Unless Western Union is handling a lot of cash without reporting the transactions to the IRS or anyone else, this comparison is bogus.
posted by rcade at 8:41 PM on November 10, 2001

Why didn't the feds give the seized groceries to a food bank like Northwest Harvest? Why take $300,000 worth of food to the dump?
posted by Carol Anne at 5:05 AM on November 11, 2001

the inventory seized was an asset of Barakat. As a result, it *had* to be seized. It would have been nice to redistribute the food to people that need it, but that's not a standard procedure, and they'd have to wade through tons of red tape to do it. (Normally seized assets are publicly auctioned off, but these are perishables.) Given how understaffed the FBI's counterterrorism units are right now, I really have no qualms about them *not* spending time worrying about what to do with $300K worth of groceries.
posted by lizs at 10:01 AM on November 11, 2001

the inventory seized was an asset of Barakat. As a result, it *had* to be seized.

I will repeat this: Also seized were items that were not part of the Barakat business. The building housed a mini mart that rented space out to other small business owners. A section of a seattle times article:

"The community plans to demonstrate today to denounce terrorism, but to also protest how the raid has frozen several Somalian businesses that apparently are independent of the wire service.

Authorities have shut Maka Mini Market and taken an estimated $300,000 worth of groceries, market owner Abdineser Ali said. This is usually the busiest time of the year for Ali as Somalian Muslims prepare for the holy month of Ramadan.

"I watched them take away my freezers today," said Ali, a permanent resident in the U.S. since 1988, who lives with his wife and three children in Seattle. "There is no evidence here. I don't know what I'm going to do."

Ali said he has tried to get answers from authorities as to how long the market will remain closed. But so far, he has received no information.

Amana, a clothing and gift shop, was also located inside the market. It remains sealed. Neighboring Baraka Tax Service remains closed. And a travel agency, Oowlo Travel and Service, while open, is virtually inoperable, according to manager Mahdy Maaweel. "
posted by gluechunk at 11:10 AM on November 11, 2001

not according to this -

Maka Mini Mart -- stripped bare and shut down since Wednesday's raid -- was targeted because authorities say it's connected to a business that sends money overseas for Somali immigrants. (from article)
posted by lizs at 11:58 AM on November 11, 2001

So now you're saying that the Mini Mart assets didn't belong to the Barakat business but instead belonged to a business that was "connected" (according to authorities) to the Barakat? Connected financially? Space-wise? We don't know as the authorities just seize without revealing anything.

another seattle-pi.com piece (this one more of a human interest story).
posted by gluechunk at 12:19 PM on November 11, 2001

We don't know as the authorities just seize without revealing anything.

we don't know what the authorities did or did not reveal, as the reporters only chose to focus on the angry Somali Mini-Mart owner and not the details of the case. i find it hard to believe that the 'authorities" involved would just arbitrarily raid a neighboring shop for no reason. what interest would they have in doing that?
posted by lizs at 12:38 PM on November 11, 2001

lizs: i find it hard to believe that the 'authorities" involved would just arbitrarily raid a neighboring shop for no reason. what interest would they have in doing that?

From the P-I story: Maka Mini Mart--stripped bare and shut down since Wednesday's raid--was targeted because authorities say it's connected to a business that sends money overseas for Somali immigrants...U.S. Customs Service officials who conducted the raid insist they were following orders from a sister Treasury Department agency, the Office of Foreign Assets Control." Our special agents were acting under the direction of the (OFAC), who had personnel on the site," said Cherise Miles, a Chicago-based spokeswoman for Customs. "And it was at their direction that they seized what they seized." A government source said it is the policy of the company hired by the agency to haul off the goods to destroy any perishable items that are seized. Richard Newcombe, OFAC's director in Washington, D.C., did not return calls yesterday.

"The authorities" avoided explaining their food seizure to local media.
posted by Carol Anne at 1:53 PM on November 11, 2001

didn't answer my question, carol anne. what interest would they have in arbitrarily raiding a neighborhood shop?
posted by lizs at 2:24 PM on November 11, 2001

lizs: I couldn't say. Perhaps you should ask the Bush administration?
posted by Carol Anne at 3:38 PM on November 11, 2001

And what about the due process procedures built into civil forfeitures and seizures provisions under the law? After property is taken by the government, there is the right to petition to have a hearing determining whether the property has been wrongfully taken and should be returned.

Under 26 U.S.C. Section 7324 Special Disposition of Perishable Goods, there are special procedures to be followed. The property owner has the right to post a bond for the value of the property, or in the absence of a bond, the property is supposed to be sold so that if the taking was wrong, the owner can be paid for the goods.

Did I miss something in the new anti-terrorism statute that suspended these due process requirements? What I seem to remember from the statute was that it said that RICO provisions applied, but I don't remember it changing the seizure procedures.
posted by bragadocchio at 5:44 PM on November 11, 2001

UPDATE U.S. releasing seized Somali property: Treasury Department tells Columbia City [Seattle] shop owners they may retrieve [nonperishable] items taken in raid...treasury officials will not decide whether to compensate the businessmen for lost property until they have completed the investigation.
posted by Carol Anne at 8:00 AM on November 21, 2001

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