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March 09, 2003

Charity Arrests

This via AP indicates an effort to choke off funds to terror organizations by so-called charity groups
SYRACUSE, N.Y. (AP) -- An oncologist accused of leading an illegal charity that sent more than $4 million into Iraq hid his involvement and used some of the money to fund groups that have been tied to terrorism, the government claims in court documents.

The documents were filed this week in support of the Feb. 26 indictment against Dr. Rafil Dhafir, who is among four people charged with conspiring to violate U.S. economic sanctions against Iraq by sending money there through the charity Help The Needy.

Sending aid to Iraq, even for charities, is illegal unless the organization has U.S. government approval, which Help The Needy did not, according to federal prosecutors. The charity lied to donors, too, about being tax-exempt, they said.

Federal investigators allege Dhafir, 55, of Fayetteville, directed and controlled the Syracuse-based organization even though he is not named on any of the charity's public documents or bank records.

Mark Sweeney, a special agent with the Internal Revenue Service, said in the documents that Dhafir disguised his activities by instructing others to open accounts and handle deposits and withdrawals.

Dhafir's attorney, Edward Menkin, said Friday that the government's case is built on unfounded "concerns and suspicions" rather than real evidence, but declined to comment on most of the specific allegations.

"The government really doesn't know what it is looking for," Menkin said. Menkin said Help The Needy is strictly a humanitarian-aid group, and is not involved in any illegal activity.

Dhafir, a U.S. citizen born in Iraq, is being held without bail pending trial, as is Ayman Jarwan, a Jordanian citizen who was the charity's executive director. Osameh Al Wahaidy, a third Syracuse-area man arrested, is free on bail, while a fourth defendant, Maher Zagha, remains at large in Jordan.[more]