U.S. Treasury targets Afghan money launderers

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Washington Post Foreign Service
Friday, February 18, 2011; 2:19 PM

KABUL - The U.S. Treasury Department has accused a controversial money exchange outfit in Afghanistan of laundering funds for heroin traffickers and placed it on a blacklist that prohibits Americans from dealing with the business and freezes any of its U.S. assets.

Treasury also blacklisted 15 people associated with New Ansari Exchange who helped move billions of dollars out of Afghanistan to "conceal illicit narcotics proceeds," the department said in a statement.

The designation represents a U.S. attempt to crack down on a circle of politically connected Afghan businessmen who have long been accused of criminal behavior and who have come to represent the culture of corruption that has hobbled the Afghan government.

"The New Ansari network is yet another example of money launderers exploiting legitimate financial systems to launder their ill-gotten gains, including illicit drug proceeds, as part of their criminal enterprise," Drug Enforcement Administration Administrator Michele Leonhart said in the statement.

It has been more than a year since U.S.-trained agents raided the Kabul offices of New Ansari and carted away tens of thousands of documents that formed the foundation of the case against the company. New Ansari used couriers to move suitcases of cash from Afghanistan to its Dubai subsidiaries, Green Leaf General Trading and Al Adal Exchange, which Treasury also designated as major money launderers under the Foreign Narcotics Kingpin Designation Act.

The Treasury statement said New Ansari laundered money for Haji Azizullah Alizai, a "major heroin trafficker and supplier," and the Haji Juma Khan, an "international opium, morphine and heroin trafficking" organization operating along Afghanistan's borders.

Among the individuals targeted were Haji Abdullah Barakzai Ansari, the founder of the money transfer business, Haji Mohammad Khan, the company's manager, and two of its major cash couriers, Eissa Jan Haji Abdul Qayoum and Rahmatullah Mohammad Afzal. In a two-month period, Afzal alone carried $94 million to Dubai, according to the Treasury Department.

The U.S. designation also named Ahmad Shah Hakimi, whose business, Ahmad Shah Money Exchange, is accused of taking over New Ansari's money laundering responsibilities after the January 2010 raid on its offices.

In an interview last August, Haji Mohammad Khan, the New Ansari manager, denied wrongdoing. He said he didn't know his company was dealing with drug dealers and that "bad people's names are not written on their foreheads."

"I had a great reputation among the other money exchangers. Everyone could trust me," he said. "The Americans put a lot of pressure on me and said, 'You have to close New Ansari.' And so I did."

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