The Case of Shakir Hamoodi: Three Years in Federal Prison For Sending Money to Iraqi Relatives During Sanctions


Say, speaking of the travesty that is the U.S. justice system, via Glenn Greenwald comes the story of Shakir Hamoodi, an Iraqi-American who earlier this month began serving a three year term in Fort Leavenworth federal prison for the crime of sending money to Iraqi relatives during the post-Gulf War I, pre-2003 invasion U.S. sanction period.

Hamoodi, who moved to America in 1985 and became a citizen in 2002, studied nuclear engineering, and eventually had five American-born children. He also has numerous relatives left in Iraq, including a blind mother and 11 siblings. During the sanctions period, his family was basically broke and starving. So, in spite of the legal restrictions on sending money to Iraq during this time, Hamoodi decided to help. He eventually coordinated with other Iraqi ex-pats and helped his family and theirs survive during these lean years. Eventually Hamoodi and the other Iraqis sent over $200,000 over to their native country. 

Now, that may seem like a big number, during that time the Iraqi dinar was nearly worthless. According to Greenwald:

Because sending money into Iraq from the US was physically impossible, he set up a bank account in Jordan and proceeded to make small deposits into it. From that account, small amounts of money – between $20 and $100 – were dispersed each month to his family members.

When other Iraqi nationals in his Missouri community heard of his helping his family, they wanted to help theirs as well. So Hamoodi began accepting similar amounts of money from a small group of Iraqis and ensured those were disbursed to their family members suffering under the sanctions regime. From 1993 until 2003, when the sanctions regime was lifted after the US invasion, Hamoodi sent an average of $25,000 each year back to Iraq, totaling roughly $250,000 over the decade: an amount that fed and sustained the Iraqi relatives of 14 families in Columbia, Missouri, including his wife's five siblings.

Prosecutors later found no proof that Hamoodi's money had any connection to the Saddam government, indeed his careful bookkeeping accounted for all the money sent. (Prosecutors did counter that they had no idea where the money went after it reached Iraqi.)

The illegality of Hamoodi's charitable efforts culminated with a massive FBI raid in 2006. Hamoodi's connections to the nuclear industry and his outspoken opposition to the American invasion in 2003 had made him a particular target. He was also not secretive about his money sending. In 2009, Hamoodi had pled guilty to conspiracy to violate the International Economic Emergency Powers Ac, and admitted that he had indeed sent the money; he was hoping to avoid jail time. But in May, Hamoodi received a three-year sentence for something that had not been a crime for nearly a decade.  

Hamoodi has received staunch community support and efforts, including this petition, to get Obama to commute his sentence, but for now the 60-year-old is now in prison. He is most worried about his youngest son, who is currently in 10th grade. 

Said Department of Justice attorney Garrett M. Heenan, it does matter that Hamoodi's crime is no longer illegal:

"But it is still a serious crime, and the larger United States government interests in having sanctions and, moreover, having people in the United States — citizens — abide by the requirements of [the] Treasury [Department] and not violate those sanctions is an important thing that the United States would seek to promote." 

In June, the Daily Beast reported on the Hamoodi case, as well as other cases of sanctions violations.