LOS ANGELES -- Filmmaker Michael Moore is under investigation by the US Treasury Department for taking ailing Sept. 11 rescue workers to Cuba for a segment in his upcoming health-care documentary "Sicko."
The investigation provides another contentious lead-in for a provocative film by Moore, a fierce critic of President Bush. In the past, Moore's adversaries have fanned publicity that helped the filmmaker create a new brand of opinionated blockbuster documentary. "Sicko" promises to take the health-care industry to task the 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." "Sicko" premieres May 19 at the Cannes Film Festival and debuts in US theaters June 29.
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 US trade embargo restricting travel to Cuba. A copy of the letter was obtained by the Associated Press.
"This office has no record that a specific license was issued authorizing you to engage in travel-related transactions involving Cuba," Dale Thompson, OFAC chief of general investigations, wrote in the letter to Moore.
In March, Moore took about 10 ailing workers from the Ground Zero rescue effort 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 declined comment, said spokeswoman Lisa Cohen.
In a statement yesterday, "Sicko" producer Meghan O'Hara said the investigation might be an attempt to undermine the film. "The efforts of the Bush administration to conduct a politically motivated investigation of Michael Moore and 'Sicko' will not stop us from making sure the American people see this film," O'Hara said.
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.
The letter noted that Moore applied Oct. 12, 2006, for permission to go to Cuba "but no determination had been made by OFAC." Moore sought permission to travel there under a provision for full-time journalists, the letter said.