A Northern Virginia businessman has been charged with operating an illegal money transfer business that sent about $5 million to countries including Pakistan, Iran and the Taliban-controlled areas of Afghanistan over a two-year period, according to a federal indictment unsealed yesterday.
Rahim Bariek, 46, who was arrested at his Herndon home late Thursday by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents, was charged with operating his company, Bariek Money Transfer, without a license from Nov. 1, 2001, to about Aug. 8, 2003, according to the indictment.
Bariek, who testified shortly after Sept. 11, 2001, before a Senate subcommittee examining money sent overseas and terrorist financing, appeared on the charges yesterday in Alexandria before U.S. District Magistrate Judge T. Rawls Jones. He was ordered to surrender his passport before he was freed without bond, authorities said. He faces as much as five years in prison if convicted.
The charge was the latest in a nationwide crackdown on unlicensed money transfer businesses often used by U.S. residents to send funds to relatives or friends in the Middle East, Asia or Africa. The money businesses, sometimes referred to as hawalas, also have been used by terrorist organizations such as al Qaeda and major drug cartels.
"We're most concerned that Bariek was transferring money to Afghanistan at a time it was under control of the Taliban and sanctions were in place not to trade or send money there," said Allan Doody, special agent in charge of the ICE Washington field office. "We're trying to determine to what extent, if any, the money went to support the Taliban, which we would consider a terrorist regime."
Bariek's attorney, William B. Cummings, a former U.S. attorney, said the "government had overblown the significance of this." He said his client operated without a state license, which meant that he was not bonded for the protection of his customers.
Bariek and U.S. law enforcement officials testified Nov. 14, 2001, before the U.S. Senate Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs subcommittee on international trade and finance on "Hawalas and Terrorist Financing Mechanisms." He told committee members that he ran Bariek Money Transfer and had up to 300 customers "who generally send money to Pakistan once a month."
He said customers often sent $20 to $400 to their families, but sometimes $1,000 to $5,000 for big events, such as weddings.
"I pay taxes on my hawala business and I comply with the law," he told senators. "I am happy to comply with the new federal law. . . . It is upsetting to us that there are hawalas used for illegal activity."