ACLU Seeks Compensation for Somali Businessmen

News Release: 
Friday, November 20, 2009

The American Civil Liberties Union today filed claims for compensation with the U.S. Treasury Department on behalf of two Somali businessmen in Seattle.  The businessmen seek fair compensation for losses suffered from a raid in early November by government agents seeking assets of a completely separate money-transfer business.  The businessmen represented by the ACLU are Abdinasir Ali Nur of the Maka Mini Market and Abdinasir Khalif Farah of the Amana Gift Shop. 

"The ACLU deplores the government's overreaction in raiding the businesses of these members of our community without any reason to believe they had engaged in wrongdoing.  As a matter of fairness, the government needs to compensate Nur and Farah for the unnecessary harm done to their livelihoods," said ACLU of Washington Executive Director Kathleen Taylor.

On Nov. 7, 2001 agents under the direction of the Treasury Department's Office of Foreign Asset Control raided the building in south Seattle which housed the Barakat Wire Transfer Company, a money-transfer business.  The raid stemmed from an executive order issued under the International Economic Emergency Powers Act that authorizes the blocking of assets of persons and entities providing funds to foreign nationals alleged to be supporting terrorism.  The Treasury Department did not claim that customers or local operators of Barakat were acting illegally, but that overseas entities skimmed portions of the money transfers for illegal purposes.

Sharing the building with Barakat were two businesses separately owned and operated in self-contained spaces: the Maka Mini Market and the Amana Gift Shop.  Although their proprietors explained that the businesses were totally unconnected to the money-transfer business, government agents conducting the raids seized their entire inventory.  Every item of property found within the Maka Mini Mart was taken, including display racks, food, and toilet paper, leaving nothing but an empty shell.  Similarly, Treasury agents seized every item of property within the Amana Gift Shop, including gifts for sale, furniture, cash from the register, and shelves on the walls.                                                   

The property was hauled away, and some of it was stored in a warehouse in the suburb of Auburn.  Perishable items, including the contents of two large meat lockers with halal meat (the Islamic equivalent of kosher meat) for Ramadan, were thrown out.  No receipts were ever provided.  When the property was released three weeks later on Nov. 28, the businessmen had to cover the costs of reclaiming their own merchandise.  They found that much of their merchandise and equipment was badly damaged while in storage.  They suffered weeks of lost sales, and even though the stores have reopened, sales are far below previous levels.

The Maka Mini Mart provides halal meat and other perishable foods for its customer base, which has consisted largely of Somali immigrants who are also Muslim.  Proprietor Abdinasir Ali Nur is seeking $252,000 in compensation for discarded and spoiled merchandise, missing and damaged equipment, recovery costs, and lost business. The Amana Gift Shop specializes in African clothing, perfumes and aromatic oils, and audiotapes, videotapes, and computer discs in English and African languages.  Its proprietor Abdinasir Khalif Farah is seeking $70,500 in compensation for damaged and lost merchandise and equipment, recovery expenses, and lost business.

"The losses were especially serious because the businesses were closed during the month of Ramadan, a peak sales time for them.  They've suffered from the stigma of a government raid, and it will take months for them to recover," said the ACLU's Kathleen Taylor.

The claims for compensation were filed under the Federal Tort Claims Act.  The ACLU believes that the actions against the two businesses were an unconstitutional seizure and were not a valid exercise of authority under International Economic Emergency Powers Act. ACLU staff attorney Aaron Caplan is representing the businessmen.