A group of nine Yemeni men in the US city of Detroit were spared jail after sending millions of dollars to their war-torn country without being registered as a money transfer business.
US District Judge Avern Cohn showed sympathy to their plight and didn’t send them to prison. Cohn noted that Yemen’s financial system was in disarray and that its people are in the midst of the worst humanitarian crisis in the world and thus are in desperate need of help.
“Only people without compassion” would object to the light sentences, the 95-year-old judge told AP. Meanwhile defence lawyers praised the judge for educating himself about the Arab world’s poorest country and understanding cultural traditions.
Speaking of one of the defendants, attorney Jalal Dallo said: “There were no victims. … He used the extra money to live and take care of his family.”
All nine men in the case pleaded guilty to failing to register money transfer businesses or making false statements to agents. One of the defendants, Fahd Samaha, said he charged people only one per cent, much less than typical financial service providers. The government said he moved $13 million to Yemen.
Bank accounts were opened in the names of shell businesses, then used to deposit and wire roughly $90 million over a seven-year period, according to plea agreements filed in court.
“Much of the currency originated from bodegas in New York City and from businesses and individuals in the metro Detroit area and was sent in a manner to conceal the true ownership of the currency, place it outside reach of law enforcement and evade income taxes,” Assistant US Attorney Timothy Wyse said.
Six of the defendants are on supervised release, a form of probation. Three others await sentencing.
Prosecutors said they had no evidence the scheme was anything more than sending money to relatives and possibly avoiding taxes, but they believed sentences within the guidelines were appropriate.
Money sent from overseas to Yemen is critical with many relying on cash from their relatives living abroad. Cash from expatriates is “hugely important” and remains a “mainstay for many households and the national economy,” said Sheila Carapico, a professor of global studies at the University of Richmond in Virginia.
The Detroit area is believed to have the highest population of the Yemeni diaspora in the US, a demographic that has risen amid war in Yemen that has killed tens of thousands of people and left millions more with food and health care shortages.