Any news release yet? It wasn't the Somali khat smuggling thing was it?
|14 arrested in khat investigation|
Aug. 22, 2006 at 11:39AM
U.S. law enforcement agents have arrested 14 members of Seattle's Somali community as part of a "coordinated takedown" of a khat trafficking ring.
The Drug Enforcement Administration accused the 14 people of being involved in a 44-person ring that had smuggled 25 tons of khat, a popular stimulant in East Africa and the Arabian Peninsula, from Africa to the United States, the Los Angeles Times reported Tuesday.
The substance has an estimated street value of $10 million.
Many in the Somali community objected to the arrests and the treatment of khat, which they point out is not illegal in England, Germany and many other European countries.
"Khat is more like caffeine than anything else. If these defendants wind up in prison, then so should (Starbucks chairman) Howard Schultz," said Terry Kellogg, a court-appointed lawyer for one of the defendants.
Oh, it must be the Sri-Lanka arms dealers?13 Tied to Sri Lankan Separatists Are Charged by U.S. With Aiding Terrorists
|By WILLIAM K. RASHBAUM|
Published: August 22, 2006
Federal agents in four states, including New York and Connecticut, have arrested 13 men on charges that they plotted to buy weapons for a Sri Lankan separatist group and bribe agents posing as State Department officials to remove the group from a list of foreign terrorist organizations.
The men were charged yesterday, and others were being sought, in a case arising from two sting operations, the authorities said. The men were said to have close ties to the group, the Tamil Tigers. Three arrests were made in Buffalo and one each in Simsbury, Conn., San Jose, Calif., and Seattle.
The men were accused of a range of crimes, from trying to buy Russian-made shoulder-fired surface-to-air missiles and assault rifles from an undercover agent on Long Island to conspiring to pay a $1 million bribe to get off the government list.
The defendants included a Sri Lankan doctor who lives in London and met last year in a Staten Island apartment with an undercover F.B.I. agent posing as a State Department official to discuss the bribe, officials said. The doctor and five other men were arraigned and ordered held without bail yesterday in United States District Court in Brooklyn.
Also arrested were a Connecticut man with a master’s degree from Columbia University, and a financial adviser, the authorities said. Three of the men were American citizens; others were from Sri Lanka, India and Canada.
Among the suspects still being sought in the case was one identified in court papers as “a principal liaison” between the leader of the group, formally known as the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam, and its supporters in North America, Europe and Asia.
That man, whose name was redacted from the court papers because he was still being sought, was actively involved in procuring military equipment for the group from around the world, the papers said.
The arrests came three weeks after a frail four-year-old cease-fire between the Tamil Tigers and the Sri Lankan government fell apart and the government stepped up airstrikes against the group.
Criminal complaints unsealed in the case said the group relied heavily on supporters in the United States, Europe, Canada and elsewhere “to raise and launder money, acquire intelligence, purchase technology and military arms and equipment and improperly influence elected politicians.”
In Cumberland, Md., F.B.I. agents searched the offices of a charity that, according to its Web site, has raised money to aid tsunami victims in Sri Lanka. The court papers identified it as a suspected front for a Tamil Tigers fund-raising organization.
The State Department designated the Tamil Tigers as a foreign terrorist organization in 1997, and the investigation into its activities in the United States began two years later, according to the complaints.
The complaints detail an escalating series of deadly attacks by the Tamil Tigers, including one in June in which, they said, the group detonated a remote-controlled mine on an overcrowded bus, killing 64 people, including 15 children.
The investigation, which was conducted by the Joint Terrorist Task Force in the F.B.I.’s Newark office and overseen by federal prosecutors in Brooklyn, with assistance from 20 other F.B.I. offices and authorities in 10 other nations, essentially ran on two tracks, officials said.
One track focused on the group’s fund-raising efforts. A confidential informer who had infiltrated the group introduced one of the defendants to an undercover federal agent posing as a State Department official. They began discussions about the possibility of a million-dollar bribe to remove the group from the State Department list, according to the bribery complaint.
The second track developed late last month, when one of the men contacted the same informer, believing he had a relationship with a black market arms dealer who could acquire weapons, including missiles. That began a series of telephone conversations and e-mail messages that ended with a Saturday meeting at a Long Island office, secretly recorded and videotaped by the F.B.I., one complaint said. Several of the men were arrested at the meeting.
The five men sought to buy 10 SA-18 shoulder-fired surface-to-air missiles, 500 AK-47’s and other military equipment, according to the complaint. One law enforcement official said they arrived at the meeting with a “shopping list.”
“These folks took this to another level of aggression in their desire to acquire sophisticated weapons,” said Leslie G. Wiser Jr., the special agent in charge of the Newark F.B.I. office.
Nachimuthu Socrates, 54, one of the defendants charged yesterday in the bribery complaint, which described him as a Tamil Tigers supporter based in North America, was arrested at his home in Simsbury, Conn., officials said.
The complaint says Mr. Socrates met with the federal agent posing as a State Department official and the informant five times in 2004 and 2005. They had detailed discussions about financial terms to remove the group from the State Department list, according to the complaint.
Mr. Socrates’s daughter, Thernal Socrates, said the family was surprised by the charges. “We think he’s innocent and that all the charges will be dropped,” she said. “I think this seems to be the new trend these days,” she said of the government charges, adding, “I don’t know where this is coming from.
She said her father, who came to the United States from India in 1976, is an engineer with a master’s degree from Columbia University and runs his own granite business.