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Academy Award-winning filmmaker Michael Moore is under investigation by the U.S. Treasury Department for taking ailing Sept. 11 rescue workers to Cuba for a segment in his upcoming health-care documentary Sicko, the Associated Press has learned.
The investigation provides another contentious lead-in for a provocative film by Moore, a fierce critic of U.S. President George W. Bush. In the past, Moore’s adversaries have fanned publicity that helped the filmmaker create a new brand of opinionated blockbuster documentaries.
Sicko promises to take the health-care industry to task in the same way Moore confronted America’s passion for guns in Bowling For Columbine and skewered Bush over his handling of Sept. 11 in Fahrenheit 9/11.
The Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control notified Moore in a letter dated May 2 that it was conducting a civil investigation for possible violations of the U.S. trade embargo restricting travel to Cuba. A copy of the letter was obtained by the Associated Press on Tuesday.
“This office has no record that a specific licence was issued authorizing you to engage in travel-related transactions involving Cuba,” Dale Thompson, OFAC chief of general investigations and field operations, writes in the letter to Moore.
In February, Moore took about 10 ailing workers from the Ground Zero rescue effort in Manhattan for treatment in Cuba, said a person working with the filmmaker on the release of Sicko. The person requested anonymity because Moore’s attorneys had not yet determined how to respond.
Moore, who scolded Bush over the Iraq war during the 2003 Oscar telecast, received the letter Monday, the person said. Sicko premieres May 19 at the Cannes Film Festival and debuts in U.S. theatres June 29.
Moore declined to comment, said spokeswoman Lisa Cohen.
After receiving the letter, Moore arranged to place a copy of the film in a “safe house” outside the country to protect it from government interference, said the person working on the release of the film.
Treasury officials declined to answer questions about the letter. “We don’t comment on enforcement actions,” said department spokeswoman Molly Millerwise.
Potential penalties for violating the embargo were not indicated.