Moore Is Under Investigation for Cuba Trip
Friday, May 11, 2007
LOS ANGELES -- Filmmaker Michael Moore is under investigation by the Treasury Department for taking ailing Sept. 11, 2001, rescue workers to Cuba for a segment in his upcoming health-care documentary "Sicko."
The investigation provides another contentious lead-in for a provocative film by Moore, a fierce critic of President Bush. In the past, Moore's adversaries have fanned publicity that helped the filmmaker create a new brand of opinionated blockbuster documentary.
"Sicko" promises to take the health-care industry to task the way Moore confronted America's passion for guns in the Academy Award-winning "Bowling for Columbine" and skewered Bush over his handling of Sept. 11 in "Fahrenheit 9/11."
The Treasury Department's Office of Foreign Assets Control notified Moore in a letter dated May 2 that it was conducting a civil investigation for possible violations of the U.S. trade embargo restricting travel to Cuba. A copy of the letter was obtained Tuesday by the Associated Press.
"This office has no record that a specific license was issued authorizing you to engage in travel-related transactions involving Cuba," Dale Thompson, OFAC chief of general investigations and field operations, wrote in the letter to Moore.
In February, Moore took about 10 ailing workers from the Ground Zero rescue effort in Manhattan for treatment in Cuba, said a person working with the filmmaker on the release of "Sicko." The person requested anonymity because Moore's attorneys had not yet determined how to respond.
Moore, who scolded Bush over the Iraq war during the 2003 Oscar telecast, received the letter Monday, the person said. "Sicko" premieres May 19 at the Cannes Film Festival and debuts in U.S. theaters June 29.
Moore declined to comment, said spokeswoman Lisa Cohen.
Treasury officials declined to answer questions about the letter.
The letter noted that Moore applied Oct. 12, 2006, for permission to go to Cuba "but no determination had been made by OFAC." Moore sought permission to travel there under a provision for full-time journalists, the letter said.
According to the letter, Moore was given 20 business days to provide OFAC with such information as the date of travel and point of departure; the reason for the Cuba trip and his itinerary there; and the names and addresses of those who accompanied him, along with their reasons for going.
Potential penalties for violating the embargo were not indicated. In 2003, the New York Yankees paid the government $75,000 to settle a dispute that it conducted business in Cuba in violation of the embargo. No specifics were released about that case.
At last September's Toronto International Film Festival, Moore previewed footage shot for "Sicko," presenting stories of personal health-care nightmares. One scene showed a woman who was denied payment for an ambulance ride after a head-on collision because it was not preapproved.