In a rare move, a Miami federal judge has thrown out an indictment accusing a South Florida businessman of playing a support role in an alleged Panamanian money-laundering scheme. The reason: The U.S. attorney's office took too long to try and make its case.
The judge noted that prosecutors filed the indictment more than six years after Tamas Zafir's role in the alleged crime of washing drug proceeds ended in 2009, then let another year pass before he could surrender on the charges in July.
This week, U.S. District Judge Robert Scola said Zafir's constitutional right to a speedy trial was violated because prosecutors delayed his prosecution while they sought the extradition of the main defendant, Nidal Ahmed Waked Hatum. He was arrested in Bogota, Colombia, in May but has yet to be extradited to Miami.
The U.S. attorney’s office wanted to prosecute Zafir and Waked together, leading to the long delay of Zafir’s trial, according to court records.
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Waked is a wealthy and well-connected businessman based in Panama who owned a textile company in Miami-Dade and employed Zafir as its manager. The company, Star Textile Manufacturing, which shut down in 2009, had an account with Ocean Bank in Miami.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Frank Tamen argued Zafir’s trial was delayed because the federal government lacked the ability to arrest Waked in Panama, which does not have an extradition treaty with the United States. Moreover, the prosecutor said, the government lacked the opportunity to arrest Waked outside Panama after he and Zafir were indicted in March 2015. Under the law, Zafir should have had his trial within 70 days of the indictment.
Zafir’s defense attorney, Sam Rabin, showed the judge that the government had ample opportunity to arrest Waked because he made 19 international flights from Panama to Canada, Panama to China, and Panama to Colombia, where he was finally arrested earlier this year. As a result of the delay in Waked’s arrest, Rabin argued his client was deprived of his right to a speedy trial.
The judge agreed, saying in his order: “The court finds that, based on the record, the reasons for the delay in arresting Zafir — a delay inextricably linked to the delay in arresting Waked — weigh heavily against the government.”
Scola also noted so many years had passed since Zafir shut down the Miami business, Star Textile, that was allegedly involved in laundering drug money from Panama.
“Zafir is now sixty-eight years old and without business records to rely upon, [he] would be hard pressed to remember details from more than seven years ago to present a defense in the case,” the judge wrote.
Rabin, a longtime criminal defense attorney, called the judge’s ruling a “significant legal victory that solidifies a defendant’s right to a speedy trial.”