BALTIMORE, MD - Saifullah Anjum Ranjha, 45, a Pakistani national residing in Washington, D.C. and Maryland plead guilty today to conspiring to launder money and to concealing terrorist financing charges stemming from an investigation by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) and the Internal Revenue Service - Criminal Investigation (IRS).
"As the U.S. financial industry strengthens its anti-money laundering programs, the use of the hawala system to move illicit funds becomes increasingly attractive to terrorist and other criminal organizations," stated James Dinkins, Special Agent in Charge of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement. "We will continue to work jointly with our domestic and foreign law enforcement partners to investigate the movement of illicit funds via the hawala system."
"The hawala system can be used by criminals to launder money without using financial institutions, by giving the money to a person in the United States and picking it up in a foreign country," said United States Attorney for the District of Maryland Rod J. Rosenstein. "Identifying hawala networks that violate the law often requires the cooperation of international authorities."
"Terrorist networks need money to be effective. Fortunately, IRS-CI is effective at following the money to find the source of the crime," said Internal Revenue Service-Criminal Investigation Special Agent in Charge, C. Andre' Martin.
According to his guilty plea, Ranjha was born in Pakistan and became a lawful permanent resident of the United States in September 1997. He operated a money remitter business in the District of Columbia known as Hamza, Inc. A cooperating witness, acting at the direction of law enforcement, held himself out to Ranjha and his associates to be involved in large scale international drug trafficking, international smuggling of counterfeit cigarettes and weapons. He also represented that he was providing assistance and financing to members of al Qaeda and its affiliated organizations and their operatives. From October 2003 to September 19, 2007, the cooperating witness gave Ranjha and his associates a total of $2,208,000 in government funds in order to transfer the monies abroad through an informal money transfer system called a "hawala," using a network of persons and/or businesses to transfer money across domestic and international borders without reliance upon conventional banking systems and regulations. The cooperating witness represented that the monies were the proceeds of, and related to, his purported illegal activities and Ranjha laundered these funds believing they were to be used to support those activities.
Ranjha was the primary point of contact for the cooperating witness and received the bulk of the monies from the cooperating witness, for a total of 21 hawala transactions in amounts ranging from $13,000 to $300,000. Most of the monies were turned over to Ranjha in locations in Maryland.
On a few occasions the cooperating witness met Ranjha and other co-conspirators at Hamza, Inc. to provide monies for a particular hawala transfer. Ranjha arranged with his associates for the equivalent amount of monies, minus commissions, to be delivered to the cooperating witness, his third party designee, or a designated bank account in Canada, England, Spain, Pakistan, Japan and Australia. Ranjha kept a commission of approximately five percent of the amount of currency sought to be transferred on each occasion. Other conspirators involved in a particular transaction retained an additional commission of between three to five percent of the transaction amount. All the funds transferred abroad were picked up by cooperating individuals and returned to the Government.
Ranjha faces a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison for the money laundering conspiracy and 10 years in prison for concealing terrorist financing. U.S. District Judge Marvin J. Garbis scheduled sentencing for November 4, 2008 at 9:30a.m.