On Monday, the Justice Department warned that Imran Awan -- a former Capitol Hill IT aide who was associated with the Democratic National Committee and congressional Democrats -- is a “flight risk” who could flee to his native Pakistan if a judge approves his request to lift “all of the conditions of his release.” This comes after revelations that during the Obama administration, the Hezbollah terrorist organization, backed by Iran, trafficked cocaine and laundered money through used cars to finance the expansion of its global threat. Awan had a used car business among his various enterprises.
Beginning in 2008, the Drug Enforcement Administration launched Project Cassandra and amassed substantial evidence that Hezbollah had expanded from its military and political activities focused on the Middle East to a global criminal enterprise. It funneled cocaine into the U.S., collecting $1 billion a year from drug and weapons trafficking, money laundering, and other criminal activities. Federal agents tracked cocaine shipments from Latin America to Africa, Europe and the Middle East, while others went through socialist Venezuela to Mexico and thence to the U.S. To launder the money from the cocaine sales, Hezbollah bought American used cars and shipped them to Africa.
Obama administration kills Cassandra Project
However, once the investigation was reaching a crucial point, the Obama administration increasingly began to throw up roadblocks, because of its negotiations with Iran (a recognized state-sponsor of terrorism) that ultimately resulted in an agreement between the two countries that released millions of dollars in bank accounts that had been frozen since the onset of the Islamist regime in 1979. The Obama administration heralded the agreement with Iran as a diplomatic breakthrough to hinder the Islamic Republic’s production of weapons-grade uranium and missiles.
When investigators moved towards arrests, prosecutions, and financial sanctions, Obama’s officials at the Justice and Treasury departments hindered or rejected their requests. For example, DOJ dismissed requests to file charges against Hezbollah’s representative to Iran, and against a member of a Iran’s paramilitary Quds force based in the U.S.
In 2011, federal investigators uncovered a money-laundering scheme linked to Hezbollah that laundered some $483 million dollars. By once the Obama administration and the Islamic Republic of Iran inked their deal in January 2016, Project Cassandra was shut down and its investigators scattered to other projects.
Imran Awan and Rep. Debbie Wasserman-Schultz
Money laundering by the Awan clan
Imran Awan -- the former aide to Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-Fla.) -- is under an electronically monitored curfew and is prohibited from traveling beyond 150 miles from his residence. Awan’s attorney wants to lift those conditions, including the electronic monitoring bracelet. Federal prosecutors warned this could tempt Awan to flee. “While the government possesses Awan’s Pakistani passport, nothing prevents him from obtaining a new Pakistani passport at the Embassy in D.C. That passport would permit Awan to board a flight and leave the country at any time,” the motion read. According to reports in September, Awan is currently working as an Uber driver in the Washington DC metropolitan area.
Wasserman-Schultz is a former chair of the Democratic National Committee who was forced to resign in the middle of the presidential election year n 2016. Suspicions were raised about Wasserman-Schultz this year when a laptop that was issued to her went missing, but was found by U.S. Capitol Police. It is being held as evidence in an ongoing investigation.
Awan’s attorney slammed the Justice Department’s statement as purely “political.”
Questionable financial practices
Awan pleaded not guilty in September to multiple federal charges, including bank fraud and conspiracy. A grand jury had returned an indictment in August charging Awan and his wife, Hina Alvi, with a total of four charges. Awan provided IT services to Wasserman-Schultz, as well as numerous other House Democrats for more than a decade. When it was revealed that he may have had access to sensitive and even classified information because of his work for members on the House Foreign Affairs and Intelligence Committees, Awan was ultimately dropped by the members of Congress. However, it was not until she had been informed of his arrest in 2016 that Wasserman-Schultz fired Awan.
Awan and his family members had a history of questionable financial dealings. For example, according to The Daily Caller, he and his associates took $100,000 from an Iraqi politician while they had administrator-level access to the House of Representatives’ computer network. The loan from Dr. Ali al-Attar, an Iraqi politician, was funneled through a company with financial transactions that were nearly impossible to decipher but controlled by Awan and associates.
Former President Bill Clinton and Imran Awan
Hefty salaries, paid by taxpayers
Besides their lucrative IT business, Awan and his family members were simultaneously managing a full-time used-car dealership in Virginia. Bearing the name Cars International A, LLC, court documents referred to it as “CIA.” in court documents, Imran Awan’s brother, Abid Awan, managed the car business. Abid Awan earned $165,000 from full time work for several members of Congress, including Rep. Tim Ryan (D-OH) and Rep. Jim Costa (D-Calif.). The car business was a money-loser. Between 2004 and 2016, Awan and his associates earned more than $4 million in taxpayer money. By comparison, federal government IT workers receive about $55,000 per year in compensation.
Possible Islamist ties
Because of his access as an administrator on the congressional computer system, Awan had access to the emails of 24 members of Congress, including possibly sensitive and classified messages and information. In July, Rep. Steve King (R-IA), who serves on the House Judiciary Committee, to Breitbart News that the Awans may have an Islamist tie back to Pakistan. “They had access to the information on the multiple clients that they had, and that number is nearly a score, as I recall, they would have had access to all the information that came through all those computers in all those offices and access to all the communications of the foreign affairs committee ,” Rep. King said. “This connection goes back to Pakistan, so we need to look at this thing also from an Islamist perspective, did any resources, what about, ‘did any resources go that way, did any information go that way,’ I just want that in peoples minds.”
Fred Fleitz, who writes for Townhall and who is a veteran of the CIA, DIA, State Department, and the House Intelligence Committee staff, claimed in February that a former CIA officer told him she was worried that the three Awan brothers may have “ties to the Pakistani intelligence service, ISI.” In July, Fox News Channel's analyst Andrew Napolitano said he believes that the FBI investigation into the Awan clan is clearly not only focused on the bank fraud charge, but the Awan brothers' access to all of Congress' email.
According to a witness, the dealership’s finances used complicated money transfers whereby staff members and cars were swapped back and forced with a dealership located next door. Despite earning congressional series amounting to $160,000 for each member of the family, their business left debts unpaid to the Congressional Federal Credit Union, as well as their associate, Rao Abbas. When Abbas threatened to sue, he later appeared on the congressional payroll and received $250,000 from taxpayers. According to a witness, it was nearly impossible to make any sense out of all the transactions.
The indictment against Awan and his wife suggests that they engaged in a conspiracy to obtain home equity lines of credit from the Congressional Federal Credit Union by giving false information about two properties – and then sending the proceeds to Pakistan. Awan’s wife fled to Pakistan, even after being questioned before her departure by customs officials who asked about the thousands of dollars in cash she had in her luggage. After being watched by investigator for months for alleged theft of computer equipment, double-billing, and false financial statements, Imran Awan was arrested in July 2016 at Dulles international airport in Virginia just before boarding a flight to Pakistan.
Awan and other IT aides for House Democrats had been on investigators’ radar for months over concerns of possible double-billing, alleged equipment theft and access to sensitive computer systems. Most lawmakers fired Awan in February, but Wasserman Schultz, D-Fla., kept him on until his arrest in July 2016.
Awan was arrested at Dulles airport in Virginia, as he attempted to board a flight to Pakistan to join his wife.
Hezbollah and terrorism
Hezbollah was formed by the Iranian Revolutionary Guard in 1982 to fight Israel's invasion of Beirut. It is considered a terrorist organization by the United States, Israel, Canada, the Arab League, the Gulf Cooperation Council, the United Kingdom, Australia, and the European Union. Since 1992, under the leadership of Hassan Nasrallah, Hezbollah moved from seeking to implement an Islamic republic in Lebanon in the style of Iran to focusing on fighting Israel. A virtual state-within-a-state, Hezbollah has launched wars and terrorist raids for decades against Israel and served as a destablizing force throughout the region.
Ethics probe warranted
The nonpartisan Foundation for Accountability and Civic Trust (FACT), a watchdog organization, named Rep. Wasserman-Schultz as the second-worst violator of ethics for 2017, citing her continued employment of Imran Awan, even after he was accused of stealing computers and data systems in February. She fired him after he sought to flee the country on a flight to Pakistan in July. FACT called for an ethics investigation into her conduct.
Spero News writer Martin Barillas is a former US diplomat, who also worked as a democracy advocate and election observer in Latin America. His first novel 'Shaken Earth', is available at Amazon.