Thursday, June 07, 2018

US Seizes Albanian Retiree's Life Savings Without Explanation
Over US$2 billion were seized in 2017 via civil asset forfeiture, which permits authorities to take money without pressing criminal charges.

Rustem Kazazi, 64, had his life savings seized by U.S. Customs and Border Patrol via the law of "civil asset forfeiture," despite having committed no crime.

A 64-year-old Albanian immigrant to the United States has filed a federal lawsuit alleging that U.S. Customs and Border Patrol (CPB) seized his life savings at an airport but never charged him with a crime, according to the Washington Post.

Rustem Kazazi is a retired police officer who has been a U.S. citizen since 2010 and lives in Cleveland with family. He was traveling back to Albania to fix up a family home when Cleveland airport customs seized US$58,000 from him without charging him with a crime.

Kazazi says he decided to fly with cash because wire transfers in Albania often are not secure, and the U.S. dollar has greater purchasing power than Albanian currency.

The CPB decided to seize what constituted the bulk of the man's life savings, however, through a law known as 'civil asset forfeiture,' which enables the U.S. government to seize private assets without the need for pressing criminal charges.

Kazazi told the Washington Post he was struggling to understand airport staff, but when he asked for an interpreter they refused and confiscated his cash.

He was given a receipt that says they suspected "smuggling/drug trafficking/money laundering," without specifying which of those activities he was being accused of or providing any evidence.

"They asked me some questions, which I could not understand as they spoke too quickly. I asked them for an interpreter and asked to call my family, but they denied my request," Kazazi told the Washington Post.

He was then strip-searched in a room before having his money confiscated.

The CPB later spoke to the Washington Post, saying Kazazi had "provided inconsistent statements," which he says were due to his difficulties with English.

Kazazi's lawyer, Wesley Hottot, says the process of civil asset forfeiture violates the dictum of "innocent until proven guilty."

"You have to affirmatively show you're not a criminal to get your own money back. You have to effectively prove a negative," Hottot said.

Over US$2 billion were seized by U.S. authorities through the same process in 2017.

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