Closing in on Baba

The head of customs in Washington, Raymond Kelly, has taken a personal interest in the Sissoko case, according to one federal source. In December when the U.S. Customs attache in Rome learned that the head of the forfeiture division for Miami's U.S. Attorney's Office was vacationing in Italy, he tracked her down and pleaded for a meeting so he could pitch the Sissoko case to her in person.

Eventually prosecutors in Miami were persuaded to take a second look at the matter. A new pair of prosecutors, separate from the ones who originally prosecuted Sissoko in 1997, began reviewing the evidence. By the time the new team had returned from Dubai this past month, they felt confidant a case should be pursued.

Although Sissoko will be the principal subject of the investigation, the grand jury will also examine the relationship Sissoko had with certain banks in Miami and whether those institutions followed federal rules regarding the transfer of large sums of money.

Ellison says at least one bank in Miami appeared to do its job properly. "Commerce Bank's conduct was beyond reproach," he offers. "When the account was opened, officials there took all the right steps to try and know their customer. They took all the right steps to satisfy themselves as to the source of the funds and to make sure it came from legitimate sources. And when they were not so satisfied, and when they felt [Sissoko] was withdrawing far too much money in cash, they closed out the account. And this was all in the matter of a few weeks." Other banks, such as Barnett (now NationsBank), Ellison says, were not as responsive. "What that might mean for them," he says, "I do not know."

jim_defede@miaminewtimes.com

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