Money Remitter Pleads Guilty to Money Laundering Conspiracy
Baltimore, Maryland -Mazhar Iqbal Chughtai, age 41, a Pakistani national residing in Canada, pleaded guilty today to conspiring to launder money, announced United States Attorney for the District of Maryland Rod J. Rosenstein. Chughtai was extradited from Canada upon the Government’s extradition request following his indictment.
According to his guilty plea, Chughtai operated a money transfer business in Montreal, Canada known as Pak Exchange Services, to transfer monies abroad through an informal money transfer system called a “hawala,” using a network of persons and/or businesses to transfer money across domestic and international borders without reliance upon conventional banking systems and regulations. A cooperating witness, acting at the direction of law enforcement, held himself out to Chughtai and his associates to be involved in large scale international drug trafficking and international smuggling of counterfeit cigarettes. From January 2004 to November 2005, Chughtai assisted co-defendant Saifullah Ranjha in 10 hawala transfers totaling $828,000 in U.S. currency provided by the cooperating witness. The cooperating witness represented that the monies sought to be transferred were the proceeds of drug trafficking, and Chughtai laundered these funds believing they were to be used to support those activities.
Ranjha, who was the primary point of contact for the cooperating witness and received the bulk of the monies from the cooperating witness, relied on Chughtai and others to complete the deposits of the monies in designated foreign bank accounts. Chughtai completed six of the 10 hawala transfers by depositing monies into the cooperating witness’s designated Canadian account. In many instances, Chughtai structured those deposits in amounts under $10,000 in order to avoid detection by law enforcement. Chughtai also arranged for wire transfers of monies into an account in Japan designated by the cooperating witness. All of the funds transferred abroad were picked up by cooperating individuals and returned to the Government.
Chughtai faces a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison. U.S. District Judge Marvin J. Garbis scheduled sentencing for December 5, 2008 at 9:00 a.m.
Saifullah Anjum Ranjha, age 45, a Pakistani national residing in Washington, D.C. and Maryland, pleaded guilty to conspiring to launder money and to concealing terrorist financing, and is scheduled to be sentenced on November 4, 2008 at 9:30 a.m.
United States Attorney Rod J. Rosenstein thanked U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the Internal Revenue Service - Criminal Investigation for their investigative work. In addition, Mr. Rosenstein thanked our international partners, the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, the Spanish National Police; the Australian Federal Police; and the London Metropolitan Police for their assistance.
Mr. Rosenstein commended Assistant United States Attorney Christine Manuelian, who is prosecuting the case.