17 September 2014

Fears company’s ‘missing $9m’ used to finance terror

The entry to the Bisotel Rieh office in Lakemba, which incorporates a money-remittance co
The entry to the Bisotel Rieh office in Lakemba, which incorporates a money-remittance company, travel company and barber shop. Source: News Corp Australia

A MONEY-REMITTANCE company linked to the family of convicted terrorist Khaled Sharrouf is being investigated by the Australian Federal Police over $9 million in missing funds, some of which authorities fear may have been used to finance Australians fighting with Islamic State.

Authorities are also concerned the company, Bisotel Rieh Global Money Transfer, may have transferred funds to Mohamed Elomar, Khaled Sharrouf’s companion in Syria and a fellow fighter with the terrrorist organisation.

Financial intelligence and compliance agency AUSTRAC announced it had suspended Bisotel Rieh, which trades in the western Sydney suburb of Lakemba, after it failed to declare the $9m in funds transferred out of Australia.

The company is being investigated over suspicious transfers of funds to individuals in Malaysia, amid admissions from staff that it “actively smuggles” money from Turkey into Lebanon.
One of the directors of the company, Damour Sharrouf, is understood to be the sister of Khaled Sharrouf, one of dozens of Australians fighting with Islamic State.

The other company director is Ahmed Alwash, believed to be Ms Sharrouf’s husband.
Khaled Sharrouf gained infamy when The Australian published photos of his nine-year-old son posing with the severed head of a slain Syrian army soldier.

AUSTRAC chief executive John Schmidt said Bisotel Rieh, which specialises in money transfers to the Middle East, failed to declare $9m between January and August. “The figures don’t appear to match,’’ Mr Schmidt said. “It’s a fairly big difference in a short space of time.
“We are satisfied that the continued registration ... may involve a significant financing-of-terrorism risk.’’
Documents released by AUSTRAC revealed that the agency’s officers had visited the business in May and established that Bisotel Rieh had “arranged for bulk cash to be smuggled from Turkey into Lebanon”, apparently because it had been unable to access bank accounts in Lebanon.
That revelation prompted a larger investigation, leading to revelations the company had transferred three sums of money totalling about $38,000 to an unnamed individual in Malaysia.
During the same period, Bisotel Rieh sent another transfer to Malaysia “seemingly coincidentally’’, according to AUSTRAC.

Khaled Sharrouf and Elomar, who fled Australia late last year, travelled together to Syria and transited through Malaysia. It was not clear if they were the recipients of the cash.
An employee who answered the phone yesterday at Bisotel Rieh declined to comment then hung up abruptly.

...The Australian understands the AFP is also investigating Bisotel Rieh.

The company has until tomorrow to explain itself, after which it faces a suspension of 40 days followed by possible deregistration.

Bisotel Rieh specialises in transfers to the Middle East and also offers a travel service, advertising numerous services including holidays, cargo and visas.

The company’s website boasts clients receive money anywhere in the world within minutes of it being sent.

Bisotel Rieh has branches in Lakemba and Liverpool in southwestern Sydney, as well as a branch in Tripoli, Lebanon.

Mr Alwash, the company’s Syrian-born founder and managing director, also heads a brick company that provides brick manufacture and design services for the Middle East.

Mr Alwash is also the founder of a food-importing business.

In February of this year Ms Sharrouf was made a director of Bisotel Rieh, but does not serve as a director of any other of Mr Alwash’s companies.

Ms Sharrouf, along with Mr Alwash, is also shareholder in Bisotel Rieh’s travel company.