Pakistani pleads guilty in money laundering

August 23, 2008|By Julie.Scharper

A Pakistani national who lived in Washington and Maryland pleaded guilty in federal court yesterday to conspiring to launder money and concealing terrorist funding, the U.S. Department of Justice announced yesterday.

Saifullah Anjum Ranjha, 45, operated a Washington-based company called Hamza that lent money through a traditional system of money transfer called hawala, according to a statement released by the Justice Department.

"As the U.S. financial industry strengthens its anti-money laundering programs, the use of the hawala system to move illicit funds becomes increasingly attractive to terrorist and other criminal organizations," James Dinkins, special agent in charge of U.S. Immigrations and Customs Enforcement, said in the statement.

According to the Justice Department, in October 2003, a person working under the direction of the FBI and the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement office approached Ranjha and struck a deal with him to transfer large sums of money. The undercover operative told Ranjha that the money was related to drug trafficking, terrorist financing and trafficking contraband cigarettes.

Between 2003 and September 2007, the operative gave Ranjha and his associates $2.2 million of government money in 21 separate transactions ranging from $13,000 to $300,000, according to the statement. Money was transferred to accounts in Canada, Japan, London, Australia, Pakistan, Spain and the United Arab Emirates - all to undercover operatives working with authorities.

In the hawala system, which has its origins in Islamic law, a person gives money to a trader in one town who deducts a commission and contacts a trader in another city or country. The second trader pays the money to its intended recipient, but the debt between the traders is settled later. Running a money transmission business without a state license is a felony in the United States.

Ranjha, who became a U.S. permanent resident in 1997, could be sentenced to as much as 20 years in prison and a $250,000 fine for conspiring to launder money and as much as 10 years in prison and a $250,000 fine for concealing terrorist financing. Sentencing is set for Nov. 4.

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