U.S.: Colombian aided rebels
Detained businessman suspected of money laundering for 'terrorists'
By JAY WEAVER AND LARRY LEBOWITZ
A Colombian businessman charged with illegally transmitting money from the United States is suspected of laundering millions of dollars for a ''terrorist organization'' in his homeland, a Miami federal prosecutor said Thursday.
Libardo Florez-Gomez is being held without bond on charges of lacking a proper license to transfer money.
He was stopped last month with $178,000 worth of European Euros at Miami International Airport.
The U.S. Attorney's Office is trying to build a case against Florez-Gomez as a suspected money launderer for the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC, sources close to the case said.
The rebels, engaged in a civil war with the Colombian government, have been designated as ''terrorists'' by the Department of State.
In court Thursday, Assistant U.S. Attorney John Schlesinger accused Florez-Gomez of laundering $1.3 million a month for a ''terrorist organization'' in Colombia, but declined to identify the group.
He said U.S. Customs Service agents found documents on Florez-Gomez that indicated he might be connected to ''terrorists'' in Colombia.
But Schlesinger did not file those papers with the court.
''He is a supporter and lifeblood of that designated terrorist organization,'' Schlesinger said during a bond hearing.
The defendant's attorney, Joaquin Perez, said the government
has wrongly charged his client and has no hard evidence that he laundered
money for Colombian
terrorists -- or anyone. ''This guy has nothing to do with terrorism,'' he said.
Perez said the papers found on his client at MIA do not implicate Florez-Gomez.
The attorney said Florez-Gomez was given the documents from a Colombian terrorist group that had kidnapped his teenage son a few years ago.
Perez said Florez-Gomez doesn't need a license to exchange money and transmit it back home.
He said the charges were a pretext so that prosecutors can pursue allegations against him amid a heightened anti-terrorist climate after the Sept. 11 attacks.
The government's case almost fell apart before it got started. On Wednesday, U.S. Magistrate Stephen T. Brown dismissed the charges against Florez-Gomez, agreeing with Perez's argument.
But on Thursday, the judge reinstated the charges after a Customs agent said Florez-Gomez changed his story when questioned about who owned the Euros he brought into MIA on Oct. 22.
Customs agent Norman Bright testified that Florez-Gomez first said that the Euros belonged to him and his computer company, Atlantic Importaciones of Bucaramanga, Colombia.
Florez-Gomez later admitted he was going to transfer the money for somebody else, but declined to identify the person, Bright said.
Perez said his client disclosed on a Customs form that he was
carrying more than $10,000 in foreign currency and the $178,000 worth of
Euros on another form.