Pubdate: Sat, 17 Mar 2007
Source: Vancouver Sun (CN BC)
Copyright: 2007 The Vancouver Sun
Author: Adrienne Tanner, Vancouver Sun
Bookmark: (Methamphetamine)


Members of an international ring of chemical suppliers to 
California's illicit methamphetamine labs with an arm in B.C. first 
met as college lunch buddies.

At least that's how the massive Federal Court immigration file on 
Surrey refugee claimant Ibrahim Al Husein tells it.

They were all from the Middle East, mostly affluent Jordanians, with 
student visas to study at Triton College in Chicago.

At some point, the lunch club turned to crime.

They bought bulk quantities of ephedrine (an ingredient of crystal 
meth) from countries such as China or Canada and smuggled the 
chemicals into the U.S. via Jordan or across the border from Canada.

California meth lab operators used the chemicals to make 
methamphetamines, street drugs such as crystal meth and speed.

That was back in the late 1990s and a whole lot of trouble has 
happened since then.

U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration investigators twigged to the 
scheme and mounted stings that led to a host of drug and conspiracy 
charges being laid against members of the group.

Some, like Al Husein served time and were deported. Others fled the 
U.S. before being caught.

The group scattered to all corners of the Earth, to Jordan, Brazil 
and one to Israel.

Two others landed in the Lower Mainland where they filed refugee 
claims and are still fighting for permanent residency.

According to documents in Al Husein's court file, he and Hisham 
Hammad, believed to be one of the group leaders, were under 
surveillance by police in Canada and the U.S. until 2003 and possibly longer.

Police suspected they were still in business, using Vancouver as a 
staging area for Montreal chemical ingredients bound for U.S. meth labs.


Al Husein was born in Malka, Jordan, the eldest of five children in a 
prominent Jordanian family, he wrote in his 2002 refugee claim.

His father, a water pumping technologist, worked in Saudi Arabia and 
spent months at a time away from the family.

"My father is highly opinionated and a very controlling man. He is 
also a highly observant Muslim, attending the mosque five times a day 
even when he is working," he wrote.

Al Husein said he chafed under his father's dominant rule over the household.

In 1995 he begged his mother to send him to school in the U.S. She 
did so, giving him money behind his father's back, and Al Husein 
started school at Triton College in June of 1996.

There he fell in with a "drug organization" run by the Hammad 
brothers, states a sworn declaration by DEA special agent Sammy Saba. 
An Arabic speaking drug investigator, Saba has been dogging the ring 
since 1997.

"These individuals are involved in the importation of pseudoephedrine 
into the United States, destined to California where it is sold and 
manufactured into methamphetamine in illegal drug labs.

"Tariq Hammad is alleged to be the 'big boss' of this organization," 
Saba wrote.

His brother Hisham Hammad, a college friend of Al Husein's from 
Triton, was also a highly placed group member.

The smuggling ring's good fortune started to crumble in 2000.

One by one, DEA detectives arrested low-level players and convinced 
some of them to turn evidence on the ringleaders.

In March of 2000 Al Husein, who was considered a minor player, was 
caught with 17,000 pseudoephedrine pills and $81,380 cash.

He pleaded no contest and received a year in jail and four months probation.

When his jail term was up he returned to Jordan but stayed for only one year.

In May of 2002 he came to Canada.

He flew business class and entered the country with a fake passport 
under the name of Andrew Spencer.

When he stepped off the plane in Vancouver, he promptly filed a refugee claim.

In his written reasons for seeking asylum, Al Husein said his falling 
out with his father upon his return from the U.S. put his life in danger.

"I had become used to the company of women without constraints 
imposed by Jordanian society, and to consuming alcohol," Al Husein said.

He broke with his religion and started seeing a Christian girl.

"My brother discovered that I had been attending a Christian church 
and my father became increasingly threatening."

A friend warned him that dabbling in Christianity could make it 
difficult to find work in Jordan and would have grave consequences 
for his family.

"I had indeed become concerned that my father would regard me as lost 
and would kill me as a matter of honour, regardless of the 
consequences. This scared my younger brother into helping me to leave."

Al Husein stated the sheikh at his family's mosque wrote in a 
document that if he returned to Jordan and refused to return to his 
religion, he would be executed.

"I would be refused an Islamic burial."


Within two months of landing in Canada, Al Husein was back on the 
police radar, this time literally by accident.

A van driven by a Middle Eastern man hit a pole in Burnaby when its 
brakes failed, Scott Sanbrook, a California Justice Department 
special agent, swore in an affidavit.

A safety inspector noticed the van was riding low. Inside was a 
suspiciously large number of pills.

He called the RCMP who identified the cargo as 621 kilograms of 
pseudoephedrine pills in bottles.

The van driver spoke no English and called a friend to translate. The 
man who showed up was Al Husein.

"Al Husein advised the RCMP that the...van contained a shipment of 
candy destined for the country of Jordan," Sanbrook said.

Al Husein insists he had no idea what was in the van and was merely 
translating for a friend.

The pills were returned and the courier then took them to a storage locker.

Police tagged the locker with a monitoring device and waited to see 
what happened next.

Meanwhile, through wiretaps in the U.S., DEA agents heard snippets of 
what they interpreted as Al Husein engaged in coded conversation 
about the pills, Sanbrook's sworn statement says.

"Where is the things?" asked group ringleader Tariq Hammad, then 
living in California.

"Yes, I have them, the police gave them back," Al Husein replied.

"No faking (sic) way," said Tariq.

"Yes they gave them back today and we put them in the storage."

The monitor placed by police in the locker rang in April of 2003. 
Burnaby RCMP watched as a man, later identified as Tariq's brother 
Hashim Hammad, moved the boxes of chemicals into a white Ford cube van.

When questioned, Hashim was frank with police, telling them he moved 
the chemicals to a warehouse in Richmond, Sanbrook's statement said.

"Hammad indicated he leased the warehouse for $3,100 and that he was 
going to use it for a shoe business."

He invited the RCMP officer to look inside. Just as he told them, the 
boxes of pseudoephedrine were stacked in the back.


No charges were ever laid in Canada against Al Husein, Hisham Hammad, 
or the courier Naav Aboud.

The reason was simple; by Canadian law they had done nothing wrong.

The possession and sale of precursor drugs used to make 
methamphetamines such as crystal meth and speed, was illegal in the U.S.

In Canada it was not. The law at the time deemed it illegal to import 
or export without a valid licence, but purchasers needed only to sign 
forms stating they would be the end user of the chemicals.

The U.S. government, however, tried to take all three men to trial.

They were arrested in B.C. on April 15, 2003 on U.S. extradition 
warrants following a massive police investigation called Operation 
Northern Star.

That same day a top-level RCMP officer travelled to Washington to 
speak at a press conference on the cross-border pseudoephedrine 
importation scheme.

Raf Souccar, now an assistant commissioner, joined hands with the DEA 
to boast about the cross-border investigation that led to 65 arrests 
across North America.

The arrests included chemical company executives in Eastern Canada as 
well as brokers and transporters in B.C. and the U.S.

However, the case against the B.C. suspects fell apart.

In an affidavit attached to his federal court file, Al Husein 
explains what happened.

""The extradition proceedings against all of us were completely 
dropped in November of 2003 when it was conceded that the U.S. could 
not even establish a prima facie case against anyone," he swore.

Department of Justice spokeswoman Lyse Cantin confirmed the Americans 
dropped the case.


Today, Al Husein lives in Surrey with his Canadian wife and stepdaughter.

He is not a permanent resident in Canada.

But in November he did win a federal court appeal granting him a new 
refugee hearing.

The Canadian government initially excluded him from making a claim on 
grounds that he had committed a serious offence in the U.S.

But the federal court ruled otherwise because the crime he committed 
in the U.S. is not a crime in Canada.

Hammad, who by last account was living in Burnaby, remains on the 
DEA's most wanted fugitive list and is considered "armed and dangerous."

He is wanted in California for illegal distribution of a listed 
chemical, aiding and abetting the manufacturing of methamphetamine 
and conspiracy to launder money.

It is not clear if the Canadian government ever attempted to have him removed.

Federal court records show he lost his refugee claim and then in the 
summer of 2005 lost again in federal court when he tried to appeal 
that decision.

Janis Fergusson, spokeswoman for the Canadian Border Services Agency 
says there is nothing she can publicly release from Hammad's file.

"Typically, I can confirm someone has been removed once that's taken 
place," she said.

By default, that means he may still be here.

Blake Hobson, the lawyer who represented Hammad in federal court in 
the summer of 2005 says he has not heard from him since.

Al Husein refused to be interviewed, but sent Hobson a statement to 
pass on asking that his name not be published in the newspaper, for 
fear it would further risk his life if he is some day returned to Jordan.

Since coming to Canada, Al Husein has insisted his connections to the 
Triton College lunch crowd are based solely on old friendships, not business.

And on that point, the letter passed on one final comment.

"Mr. Al Husein acknowledges that he made a mistake in judgement in 
California when he was much younger and that he has paid for that mistake."
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MAP posted-by: Beth Wehrman