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Thursday, April 9, 2009

FBI raids in Minn. aimed at Africa money transfers

MINNEAPOLIS – Federal agents searched three money-transfer businesses in Minneapolis on Wednesday, carrying away boxes of documents and copying computer hard drives for details of transactions between the U.S. and several African nations.
Agents searched Mustaqbal Express, also known as North American Money Transfer Inc.; Quran Express; and Aaran Financial.

FBI spokesman E.K. Wilson confirmed the searches but wouldn't elaborate on the reason.

A copy of a search warrant executed at Mustaqbal Express and obtained by The Associated Press said authorities were looking for documents, books, records, ledgers and other materials "relating to the transfer of money, currency or funds" to Somalia, Eritrea, Kenya, Sudan, Ethiopia, Djibouti and the United Arab Emirates. It also sought documents on ownership and management of the business and lists of clients. It covered materials from January 2007 to the present.

The warrant was filed in the federal Eastern District of Missouri on April 3.

Abdirahman Omar, the general manager of Mustaqbal Express, said about 15 agents spent more than four hours at his business. He said they took about 10 boxes of documents and copied computer hard drives.

Mustaqbal Express' Minneapolis office serves as a central collection point for money from other locations around the country, including Seattle, St. Louis and Denver and Columbus, Ohio, Omar said — from $1 million to $1.5 million per month. The office then ships it overseas, mostly to Somalia.

Omar said the service is especially important because it is one of the few ways Somalis can send money back home. He added that he was angered by the raid, saying it gave his business a bad image.

"We're not doing anything wrong," he said. "We cooperated. We are 100 percent confident there's nothing wrong."
Minnesota is home to a large concentration of African immigrants, particularly Somalis who have mostly settled in Minneapolis. The most recent U.S. Census figures estimate the state has about 32,300 Somalis.

The two other money-transfer businesses were in another location, known as the Karmel Mall. Several people and shopowners declined to be quoted, but said a dozen or so federal agents were at the mall from about 8 a.m. to 2:30 p.m.

Omar said agents told him the search was unrelated to the departures in recent months of several young Somali men from Minneapolis who are believed to have gone to that country to join in the fighting there.

Somalia has been torn apart by warlords and Islamic militant groups for nearly two decades.
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