Man arrested at B.C. border with 'terrorist resources'
Published Wednesday, November 11, 2009 8:51AM EST
VANCOUVER - Paranoia and naivete led a Syrian man to lie about why he was crossing the border with nearly $1 million in gold and what's been called "terrorist resources," says the lawyer for the man who has been held as a potential security threat since early last month.
Khaled Nawaya, a flight instructor, was arrested by Canada Border Services agents when they found $800,000 in gold coins and other currency in his car and pockets on Oct. 6, as he crossed into Surrey, B.C., near Vancouver.
"He didn't want to be taxed on it," lawyer Phil Rankin said Tuesday.
"He should have gotten legal advice on that and just declared the money. Had he declared the money, that would probably be the end of the story."
But his actions, along with other politically-charged items found in his vehicle, are now being used by government officials to build a case depicting him as a national security threat.
The 35-year-old faces the Immigration and Refugee Board on Thursday to learn whether authorities have grounds to keep him in custody.
He'd been living in the U.S. since he was 17 and had gained approval for permanent residency in Canada.
Besides the gold, Canadian agents found a ring bearing the insignia of Hezbollah, which has been listed as a terrorist organization by the Canadian government since 2002.
They also seized 9/11 conspiracy theory-themed DVDs and a scarf adorned with the images of a former Israeli prime minister and a U.S. president depicted as monkeys.
According to transcripts of a previous detention hearing, government lawyer Kamal Gill described the RCMP investigation into Nawaya as "a probable national security nexus."
The government has successfully argued the man should remain detained while authorities investigate the ring's meaning and the source of the money.
The RCMP say their role in the investigation isn't that complex.
"At this point in time, we're investigating the source of the money and also its intended use," said Insp. Paul Richards, who heads the Integrated National Security Enforcement team.
Nawaya has not been charged with a crime. However, RCMP are recommending charges for the failed declaration under the Proceeds of Crime (Money Laundering) and Terrorist Financing Act, he said.
Gill told the hearing that when Nawaya was questioned at the border, he was "adamant" he was only bringing $10,000.
Rankin said each of the items are easy to explain.
Nawaya won about half the money in a civil suit he filed against a school he attended in the U.S., while the rest was earned and saved, he said.
"We've accounted for every penny of it," Rankin said.
And while the government has inquired with several Middle Eastern embassies about the significance of the ring -- such as whether they'd represent participation in the Islamist group based in Lebanon - Rankin said the man's brother had them uniquely made in the U.S.
"I think they're probably sympathetic to what's going on in the Middle East," he said, but that's no indication of "sinister" activity.
Nawaya went through a series of checks as he applied for landed immigrant status, and his record always turned up clean, Rankin added.
Nawaya was also checked out by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security after Sept. 11, 2001. Rankin said Nawaya likely piqued the department's interest because he is a flight instructor and because he is of Middle Eastern descent.
Nawaya was born in Saudi Arabia but holds Syrian citizenship. Upon moving to the U.S. he earned two degrees, in professional aeronautics and management.
He's being held in a Vancouver-area detention centre, and his lawyer describes his mood as "depressed and anxious."