The U.S. government has issued an arrest warrant for an American citizen who is seeking asylum in Sweden after he went public with allegations of illegal detention and torture while in the United Arab Emirates – which he believes was carried out at the behest of the FBI.
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MSNBC In newly filed documents, the U.S. government charges that Yonas Fikre, 33, an Ethiopia-born resident of Portland, Ore., was involved in money transfers set up to avoid U.S. reporting requirements. He is accused of conspiring with two other defendants — his brother Dawit Woldehawariat of San Diego and Abrehaile Haile of Seattle.
The accusation against the three is “structuring” — or using a series of bank transactions instead of conducting a larger transaction in an effort to avoid reporting the money movements to the federal government. Transactions over $10,000 require reporting.
After Fikre traveled to Sudan in 2009, and later to the UAE, he received money transfers that he says were for starting a trading business. The document alleges that a series of $7,000 money transfers from his brother, and handled by Abrehaile Haile — who operates Red Sea Inc., a money-transmitting business in Seattle — amounted to conspiracy to structure. Fikre’s brother, a taxi driver, also was charged with failing to file taxes for 2009 and 2010. He made about $26,000 in 2009 and $29,000 in 2010, the document states.
“Frankly, I think its retaliation and retribution,” Fikre’s attorney, Thomas Nelson in Portland, said of the indictment. (Yeah, payback’s a bitch, ain’t it?)
Nelson said that the FBI agents used the accusation of “structuring” to pressure Fikre to become an informant in a case they were pursuing at a meeting with him in Khartoum in April 2010.
Fikre said the agents also suggested they could help him get off the U.S. “no-fly” list if he aided their investigation — a surprise, Fikre said, because it was the first he had learned that his name was on the list of “known and reasonably suspected terrorists.”
He is now in Stockholm where his appeal for asylum is under review by the Swedish government. Fikre, a naturalized American citizen, came to the United States as a refugee in 1991, after his family fled civil war in Ethiopia. Now that he is on the no-fly list, he is barred from boarding any flight that enters U.S. air space.
Nelson is concerned that the indictment might make his client essentially stateless. “Yonas tried to come back to the United States and couldn’t get in, so he went to Sweden,” said Nelson. “The (Swedish) government might now claim he’s a fugitive and won’t let him in.“ (One can only hope)