By Paul Fauvet
Maputo, 9 Jun (AIM) – Mozambican businessman Mohamed Bachir Sulemane, named
last week by US President Barack Obama as a drug baron, “imports heroin from
south-east Asia and cocaine and marijuana from Latin America”, accused Adam
Szubin, director of the US Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC), speaking
at a video conference between Maputo and Washington on Wednesday.
Szubin said that Bachir moves the drugs through Mozambique and on to final
destinations elsewhere, such as South Africa and European markets.
OFAC is the agency in the US Treasury Department that implements sanctions
against individuals and companies whom the President has named as involved in
drugs trafficking, terrorism, and nuclear proliferation
Szubin described Bachir’s alleged narcotics operations as large scale, but
could not put an exact figure on them. He stressed that it is not small fry
who are named by the US President as “narcotics kingpins”, adding “he is
viewed by us as a very significant trafficker”.
Several journalists demanded that Szubin make public the evidence that OFAC
had gathered against Bachir, but he declined to do so, pointing out that OFAC
had not initiated any judicial proceedings against Bachir.
The naming of “kingpins”, he said, is an administrative act intended to
protect the US financial system against the proceeds of narco-trafficking.
“The objective is to disrupt the financial operations of narcotics cartels,
making it harder for them to achieve their goals, and to protect our financial
system from dirty financial flows”, Szubin declared.
He said that evidence against drug barons is gathered from a variety of US
agencies (primarily in law enforcement and intelligence”, and for anyone to be
named as a “Tier One narcotic kingpin” requires “a high level of security
about the evidence”.
“This is not a criminal process”, said Szubin, “in that documents do not go
before a court, we are not prosecuting Bachir, and we are not trying to put
him in jail. We just have evidence that he is a trafficker and we want him out
of our financial system”.
Bachir claims he has no bank accounts in the US, and no financial transactions
with any US companies. Szubin would not comment on these claims, but he
stressed that OFAC investigations into Bachir’s affairs would continue.
Bachir’s three known companies had been named and are under OFAC sanctions,
meaning that no US citizens or institutions may have any dealings with them.
But drug barons in the past have changed the names of their companies, or “set
up new front companies, new shell companies”. Bachir might do the same, said
Szubin, “and we shall take further action as appropriate”.
A spate of pro-Bachir propaganda articles and editorials in the Mozambican
press have used the fact that names are regularly depleted from OPAC’s kingpin
list in order to claim that the American agency is incompetent, and names the
wrong people. But Szubin replied that names are deleted when the individuals
concerned give undertakings to sever all their links with narco-trafficking.
None of the deletions were because OFAC had made a mistake in its initial
investigation, he said. “Typically, an individual approaches us, and says ‘you
designated me, I want to get off the list, and I will have nothing more to do
with drugs. I will cut all my ties with trafficking, if you take me off the list’”
In such cases OFAC makes a judgment as to the credibility of the repentant
trafficker. Often those requesting that their names be deleted are people with
minor roles in cartels, or family members sitting on the boards of companies
implicated in trafficking. OFAC, Szubin said, regarded the removals “as a
success – we have turned these individuals away from trafficking”.
But “Tier One Kingpins”, he added, never apply for delisting, because they
have spent years or decades in trafficking “and have no intention of changing”.
However, if Bachir, or anyone else designated as a “Tier One Kingpin”, were to
request delisting, “we will look at it, we will always entertain such
requests, but we would ask some very hard questions”.
Szubin denied that there was any lack of due process, since any person on the
list can appeal to the US courts. “These actions can be rescinded by a court”,
he said. “Should Bachir wish to challenge our actions, he may do so in a US
court. Then a judge would look at the evidence we have”.
Asked if Bachir could visit the US, Szubin said that depended on whether he
was granted a visa “and the State Department would look very critically at
such an application”. If he does set foot on US soil, Bachir would not be in
immediate danger of arrest, since no indictment has been issued against him.
As for Bachir’s relations with non-American bodies, such as Mozambican banks,
“it is our hope that banks and other organisations will take a very close look
at his activities”, Szubin said.
The US official declined to answer questions on whether anybody in the
Mozambican government or the ruling Frelimo Party had facilitated Bachir’s
activities, and said he could not comment on information gathered during the
OFAC was “interested and willing” to have continuing discussions with the
Mozambican authorities on issues of narcotics trafficking, he added.
Thursday, 10 June 2010
By Paul Fauvet