Speaking of Hezbollah’s criminal racket, the Awans sure fit its profile

Speaking of Hezbollah’s criminal racket, the Awans sure fit its profile
Abid Awan, leaving court after a separate insurance fraud accusation. (Image: DCNF)

I knew Daily Caller’s Luke Rosiak would be coming out with this update after Josh Meyer’s Politico post on Hezbollah and the Obama administration.  Rosiak is the one to write this.  I would add only that, although the Awans did financial business with some of the same financial institutions implicated in the U.S. charges filed in December 2011 (see below), there was nothing eye-catching in that.  The banks involved – e.g., PNC Bank – are so big that having loans and other accounts with them is not a stand-out feature.

There doesn’t seem to be a direct, readily documentable connection between the Awans’ car dealership and the entities involved in the Hezbollah scheme.  That includes any links with the 30 dealerships named in the 2011 charging document (which, as Josh Meyer outlines, was a good start, but never had the punch it would have if the administration had pursued the tougher charges it had the evidence for).  Still, Luke Rosiak shows that the profile of the Awans’ own little scheme is very similar to what Josh Meyer described in his article.

The differences in the Awans’ case are two. One, they had access for more than a decade to an extraordinary amount of information from inside the United States House of Representatives.  They were being highly paid by House Democrats for services that most of the time were not even clear.

Two, the Awans’ potential link to Hezbollah was an exceptional one: Dr. Ali Al-Attar, one of the Iraqis who advised U.S. officials in DOD on post-war planning before the 2003 invasion.  Al-Attar is an Iraqi Shia, at least one of whose parents is reportedly Iranian, and who lived in Lebanon after being kicked out of Iraq in 1980 (when the Iran-Iraq War started), and got his medical license in Beirut (see Rosiak’s links for some of these facts).

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In other words, he had every opportunity to know a lot of people in Hezbollah.  Rosiak is all over the case that Al-Attar’s dealings in the U.S. have been far from aboveboard (his medical license in Maryland was revoked in 2012, in fact, due to his refusal to account for or correct questionable practices).  Al-Attar dropped off the radar after 2003 in terms of advising the U.S. post-war administration, and I’d stress that the connection to Hezbollah is not a conclusive one.

But the Awans’ own activities remain astoundingly suspicious. – J.E.

The used car dealership known as CIA never seemed like an ordinary car dealership, with inventory, staff and expenses.

On its Facebook page, CIA’s “staff” were fake personalities such as “James Falls O’Brien,” whose photo was taken from a hairstyle model catalog, and “Jade Julia,” whose image came from a web page called “Beautiful Girls Wallpaper.”

If a customer showed up looking to buy a car from Cars International A, often referred to as CIA, Abid Awan — who was managing partner of the dealership while also earning $160,000 handling IT for House Democrats — would frequently simply go across the street to another dealership called AAA Motors and get one.

“If AAA borrows a car to Cars International and they have a customer, it was simply take the car across the street and sell it, and then later on give the profit back or not,” Nasir Khattak, who ran the longstanding AAA dealership, testified in a lawsuit. “There was no documentation… If you go and try to dissect, you will not be able to make any sense out of them because there were many, dozens and dozens, of cars transferred between the two dealerships and between other people.”

Khattak did not explain why he would ruin his existing business to help the Awans. “All of those transactions was to support Cars International A from AAA Motors,” he testified. “That’s why I did not make any money from my dealership because my resources were supporting Cars International A.”

He said only Imran Awan knew what became of the money. “It was Imram, [Abid] Awan’s brother, who was running the business in full control,” he said.

Imran Awan and his family members were congressional IT aides who investigators said made unauthorized access to the House Democratic Caucus server thousands of times. At the same time as they worked for and could read all the emails of congressmen who sat on committees like Intelligence, Homeland Security and Foreign Affairs, they also ran a car dealership that took money from a Hezbollah-linked fugitive and whose financial books were indecipherable and business patterns bizarre, according to testimony in court records.

While Imran and Abid Awan ran their car dealership in Falls Church, Va. in the early part of the decade, Drug Enforcement Agency officials a few miles away in Chantilly were learning that the Iranian-linked terrorist group frequently deployed used car dealerships in the US to launder money and fund terrorism, according to an explosive new Politico expose.

The money that disappeared between the Awans’ dealership, some $7 million in congressional pay, the equipment suspected of disappearing from Congress under their watch, and their other side businesses — all while they displayed few signs of wealth and frequently haggled in court over small amounts of money — raise questions about whether the Awans might have been laundering money or sending it to a third party.

“Based on the modest way Awan was living, it is my opinion that he was sending most of his money to a group or criminal organization that could very well be connected with the Pakistani government,” said Wayne Black, a private investigator who served as law enforcement group supervisor in Janet Reno’s Miami public corruption unit. “My instincts tell me Awan was probably operating a foreign intelligence gathering operation on US soil.”

Officials told Politico that prosecutors refused to help them punish top Hezbollah operatives involved in its money laundering network because of political concerns, such as fears of jeopardizing the Obama administration’s deal with Iran. Similarly, the Awans, who had close relationships to House Democrats including Debbie Wasserman Schultz and Gregory Meeks, have not been charged with any crimes surrounding the dealership nor with their House activities. The disclosure of a House IT breach shortly before the election by Pakistani-born Democratic staffers would have had political fallout.

Shortly before the 2016 election, investigators found huge amounts of House equipment unaccounted for under the Awans’ stewardship, and when they looked into the family further, they found that they had logged in to members’ computers for whom they did not work. There were signs that the House Democratic Caucus’ server “is being used for nefarious purposes” by the Awans, according to a House investigation, and “steps are being taken to conceal their activity.”

Politico tells the story of Ali Fayad, a “Ukraine-based arms merchant suspected of being a Hezbollah operative moving large amounts of weapons to Syria:”

Lebanese arms dealer Ali Fayad Ali Fayad, a suspected top Hezbollah operative whom agents believed reported to Russian President Vladimir Putin as a key supplier of weapons to Syria and Iraq, was arrested in Prague in the spring of 2014. But for the nearly two years Fayad was in custody, top Obama administration officials declined to apply serious pressure on the Czech government to extradite him to the United States, even as Putin was lobbying aggressively against it.

Abid Awan is married to a Ukranian named Nataliia Sova, who was herself on the House payroll as an IT aide in 2010 and 2011 for Reps. Emmanuel Cleaver, Ted Deutch, and Gabby Giffords. Abid incorporated Cars International in 2008, and Cars International A in 2009, taking out loans from the Congressional credit union while omitting the dealership from House financial disclosures. It was not clear how he could have been working at both the dealership and a high-paid congressional job.

In 2010, the CIA dealership took a $100,000 loan from Dr. Ali Al-Attar, who is of Iranian heritage and was a minister in the Iraqi government, according to court records. Al-Attar is a fugitive wanted by the U.S. government. Philip Giraldi, a former CIA officer, wrote that Attar “was observed in Beirut, Lebanon conversing with a Hezbollah official” in 2012–shortly after the loan was made.

The money was moved from Ali Al-Attar through accounts intended for Fairfax County real estate. Both Imran Awan and Khattak — who also put up $200,000 in cash as an investor in CIA — had realtors licenses.

It’s not clear where the dealership’s money was going, because it was sued by at least five different people on all ends of a typical car business who said they were stiffed. CIA didn’t pay the security deposit, rent or taxes for its building, it didn’t pay wholesalers who provided cars, and it sold broken cars to people and then refused to honor the warranties, the lawsuits say.

“The consignment agreements state it clearly that either Mr. Awan sells the cars for the agreed price no less $62,200 or return my cars back. I need my cars back,” Issmail Alchaleh, one wholesaler, wrote in court documents. Some of the consignment agreements use the same VIN for multiple cars.

Abid declared bankruptcy in 2010 to discharge debts racked up by the car dealership. One person who was listed on bankruptcy documents as being owed money by the dealership, Rao Abbas, later appeared on the House payroll as an IT aide, even though his most recent job experience was working at McDonalds. Democrats have refused to explain why they hired him.

Abid kept ownership of two houses in the bankruptcy by saying he was separated or divorcing from Sova, but even this year, they were still together, and Sova used Abid’s residence when incorporating her own car companies. Sova established a mysterious company called Alain LLC in 2009, followed by Discover EZ Car Buying Co. in 2014 and Regional Car Center Inc. in 2015. Virginia incorporation documents list Abid’s home address as the businesses’ location, and a Google search did not reveal any evidence of the dealerships existing, which is incongruous for a line of work where basic revenue depends on making sure potential customers know where to find them.

Other opaque companies, such as New Dawn 2001 and Acg LLC, were also established in 2011 out of Imran’s house.

A relative of the Awans told TheDCNF that Abid sent huge quantities of iPads and iPhones to Pakistan and that Imran frequently talked about Russia. They also sent money to a Pakistani police officer. The brothers’ stepmother, Samina Gilani, said in court documents that when the family spends time in Pakistan, the brothers are escorted by a motorcade of Pakistani government agents. Rep. Yvette Clarke, a New York Democrat who employed Abid, filed paperwork saying that $120,000 in technology equipment went missing while Abid managed it for the office.

Despite brothers Imran, Abid and Jamal and Imran’s wife, Hina Alvi, all making chief-of-staff level salaries of $160,000 on Capitol Hill, they displayed few signs of wealth in the US, further raising questions about where all the money was going. Abid is in a lawsuit against his stepmother after Abid replaced her with himself on his father’s life insurance policy, and his attorney, Jim Bacon, told a judge he needed money. Imran’s lawyer said his children were living in squalor. They reported few holdings on their House ethics disclosures.

They bought houses will little money down, then rented them out, insisting that rent be paid in cash, tenants told TheDCNF. Sources said the FBI generated Suspicious Activity Reports hundreds of pages long based on large cash deposits and international wires.

Members of Congress have refused to acknowledge what is well-known among the House bureaucracy, that investigators found conclusive evidence that the Awans wantonly violated House IT regulations. “There’s no question about it: If I was accused of a tenth of what these guys are accused of, they’d take me out in handcuffs that same day,” a fellow House IT aide said. But fellow IT aides with knowledge pertinent to the case said the FBI hasn’t even interviewed them.

Politico’s money-laundering story echoed similar themes: “Right now, we have 50 FBI agents not doing anything because they know their Iran cases aren’t going anywhere,” including investigations into allegedly complicit used-car dealers, a prosecutor said.

 

 

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This report, Luke Rosiak, was cross-posted by arrangement with the Daily Caller News Foundation.

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