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SSC indictment list reveals details of ‘tobacco case’

Defendants charged with endangering public's safety — resources

By JT - Feb 07,2019 - Last updated at Feb 07,2019

AMMAN — The State Security Court (SSC) attorney general on Thursday announced the final indictment list in the so-called tobacco case and the charges against the defendants, the Jordan News Agency, Petra, reported.

Last Wednesday, the SSC attorney general approved the SSC's prosecutor general's indictment decision in the “tobacco case”, in which the defendants were charged with the crime of committing acts that endanger society's safety, security and economic resources, as well as the crime of committing acts that change the state's economic structure or endanger the society's basic conditions.

The attorney general decided to refer the defendants to stand trial before the SSC for charges of accepting, or providing, bribes to carry out illegal acts, the abuse of power and money laundering, as well as tax evasion, among others. 

The attorney general demanded that the companies registered under the defendants' names be dissolved and their property and assets be confiscated.

The SSC attorney general ordered that the defendants continue to be banned from travelling and subject to precautionary seizure on their movable and immovable assets and amounts of money collected in the case.

The indictment list in the so-called “tobacco case” has included charges against former director of the Jordan Customs Department (JCD) Wadah Hmoud, who cooperated with the main suspect in the case, Awni Mutee, for facilitating smuggling tobacco in exchange for money.

According to the indictment list, a copy of which was received by The Jordan Times, Hmoud agreed with Mutee to receive a monthly amount of JD25,000 for facilitating the smuggling process.

Hmoud, in 2015, assumed office as JCD director and, in ex officio capacity, deputy chairman of the Jordan Free and Development Zones Group. In early 2016, Mutee visited Hmoud at his house to complain about the procedures of the free zone and that there were employees hindering his work.

Mutee received Hmoud’s approval to remove any obstacles that could obstruct smuggling tobacco and to transfer or refer to retirement any employee who would impede tobacco smuggling. In return, Mutee offered money to Hmoud.

Both suspects agreed that Hmoud would notify Mutee of any raids on the latter’s companies by relevant authorities, the indictment list added.

Hmoud contacted suspect Salem Khasawneh, assistant director of the Aqaba Customs Department for inspection affairs, and agreed to facilitate smuggling tobacco and raw materials for Mutee’s companies, in return for a share of Hmoud’s bribes from Mutee.

In May 2016, a tip-off reached the director of anti-customs smuggling Damen Bani Fawwaz that there were large amounts of smuggled tobacco in the local market, which were originally from Mutee’s companies and factories. 

Bani Fawwaz wrote a memo for Hmoud who had to refer the memo to the finance minister, and, after receiving permission, Bani Fawwaz planned to raid Mutee’s factories in the Zarqa Free Zone.

Meanwhile, Bani Fawwaz received information that Mutee’s companies had transferred goods to other warehouses, after Hmoud had notified Mutee about the raid. 

In mid-2016, Rangers Director Brig. Gen. Imad Shawawreh called the director of the anti-smuggling department and notified him about warehouses of smuggled tobacco in the Ain Ghazal area, owned by Mutee, and asked for backup from anti-smuggling department patrols.

Before the raid, and after surrounding the warehouse, Hmoud called Bani Fawwaz and asked him to dismiss all the patrols and not to raid the warehouses, but Bani Fawwaz refused due to the fact that the tip-off came from Rangers, and that the operation was therefore under their jurisdiction.

Hmoud said he would take the necessary procedured, so he called the director of the Rangers and asked him to pull back the patrols on the pretext that JCD personnel were dealing with the situation, at which point Bani Fawwaz had to consent to Hmoud’s order, in light of the pulling out of the Ranger patrols.

The former JCD director received various amounts of money, including JD30,000 that was delivered in Um Uthaina through another suspect.

Mutee, Hmoud and Khasawneh agreed to smuggle two tobacco containers from an Arab country with a customs statement labelling the contents as paper, while, in fact, they were laden with various types of tobacco.

Once the two containers arrived to Aqaba, Khasawneh received orders from Hmoud to facilitate their entry without inspection, telling the customs inspector that the containers would be seized later. 

The two containers arrived in Ramtha, where anti-smuggling patrols had been blocked from following and therefore could not continue monitoring the smuggled items.

Custom fees and due taxes on the two containers reached JD4 million, while custom fines are estimated at JD8 million. 

Out of fears of being exposed, Hmoud delivered a letter to the Jordan Integrity and Anti-Corruption Commission about the two containers. 

Mutee asked Hmoud to transfer then-customs director of the Zarqa Free Zone Fadi Makhlouf, in exchange for JD75,000, which would be paid in three instalments. Mutee delivered the payment after Makhlouf’s transfer, according to the court’s document.

A while after that, Hmoud asked Mutee, through his brother, for JD200,000 to build warehouses, and repeated his request to Mutee personally. 

Mutee visited Hmoud in his home and gave him a bribe of JD130,000, while the latter said that the money would be spent to cover his debts.

The case began to surface in 2017, after Hmoud told Mutee’s brother about a raid on their factories in Zarqa, but the brother did not tell Mutee, which contributed to the success of the raid by the JCD, security agents and personnel from the free zone, and the seizure of large amounts of contraband.

Following the raid, Mutee thought that Hmoud had turned against him and pledged to expose him. 

Mutee visited Hmoud in his home and blamed him for not warning him about the raid, with the former JCD director telling the businessman that he had told the brother, who said that he forgot to notify Mutee. 

One night before fleeing the country, Mutee visited Hmoud and gave him JD50,000 for tipping him off on the need to leave the country urgently before he was found out.

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