Thursday, August 23, 2007

Feds attempting to levy fee upon uncharged Muslim charity for its own paperwork?

Charity raided by feds seeks files

Muslim agency under probe says U.S. attorney is charging up to $115K for return of its records.

Paul Egan / The Detroit News

When FBI agents raided the Muslim charity Life for Relief and Development last September, they carted away computers and records but charged nobody and allowed the agency to continue operating.

Nearly one year later, the charity is today asking U.S. District Judge Nancy G. Edmunds to order the return of nearly 200 boxes of paperwork it says are critical to its operations, including tasks such as filing its federal tax return.

The U.S. Attorney's Office is willing to provide the records, but only if Life for Relief pays copying charges of between $21,000 and $115,000, the charity said in a recent federal court filing. Those charges are higher than normal because the government insists copies be made inside FBI offices by a company with a U.S. security clearance.

"It strikes me that after this period of time, they ought to be in a position of either moving forward or being able to return the records," Life for Relief attorney Thomas Cranmer said Wednesday.

Today's hearing is three weeks before the start of Ramadan, a month of fasting and charitable giving for Muslims. Islamic leaders have complained that raids on Life for Relief and other Muslim charities in the United States have chilled donors.

The government, which has copied and returned computerized files but continues to hold reams of paper records, has filed sealed documents, which only the judge can look at, putting forth its reasons why Life for Relief, and not the government, should pay the copying charges.

Feds: There's no unfair delay

A "wide-ranging and substantial investigation" of the charity continues and there has been no unreasonable delay, government lawyers from the U.S. Justice Department's national security division in Washington, D.C., said in a July court filing.

Dawud Walid, executive director of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, said charging Life for Relief for photocopying is akin to making the agency pay the FBI for the cost of its investigation.

"These kinds of charges would be putting an exceedingly high burden on a nonprofit organization that seeks to use these funds to help people who are facing starvation," Walid said.

Probe is not terror-related

Ihsan Alkhatib, director of legal and public policy for Life for Relief, said in an affidavit that the FBI agent in charge of the raid told him on the day of the raid that the investigation was not terror-related.

Life for Relief describes itself on its Web site as the largest American Muslim humanitarian relief.(MORE)

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