Pakistan Spy Agency Aided by Two Men in U.S., Prosecutors Say
A “decades-long” operation by Pakistan’s spy agency to influence U.S. policy on Kashmir was aided by two American citizens who funneled money to members of Congress and illegally hid their foreign connections, U.S. prosecutors said.
Syed Ghulam Nabi Fai, 62, and Zaheer Ahmad, 63, were charged yesterday in federal court in Alexandria, Virginia, with conspiracy to violate the Foreign Agents Registration Act and lying to federal agents. Prosecutors said the two moved about $4 million from Pakistan’s government through the Washington- based Kashmiri American Council to sway U.S. lawmakers with campaign contributions and other lobbying activities.
The council, headed by Fai, is “actually run” by elements of the Pakistani government, including Pakistan’s military intelligence service, the Inter-Services Intelligence Agency, or ISI, the Justice Department said in a statement.
“Foreign governments who try to influence the United States by using unregistered agents threaten our national security,” James McJunkin, the assistant FBI director overseeing the Washington field office, said in a statement. “Mr. Fai’s alleged conduct illustrates the risk to our fair and open government.”
The pair failed to disclose their affiliation with Pakistan’s government as required by law, and Fai gave false answers in 2007 when asked about the links by the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the government charged.
In an interview with FBI agents at his home on March 3, Fai “implied that he had no relationship with anyone in the government of Pakistan,” Sarah Webb Linden, an FBI Special Agent, said in an affidavit.
A search of Fai’s home, office and a storage facility turned up documents detailing the council’s Washington strategies, including budget requirements for contributions to members of Congress and trips to Kashmir for lawmakers, money for opinion pieces distributed to the media, as well as money for seminars and conferences. One document allegedly called for $100,000 for contributions to members of Congress in the 2009.
In the affidavit, Linden said the strategy documents for 2008 and 2009 were given to Fai’s handlers in Pakistan.
Since the mid-1990s, Ahmad, an American living in Pakistan, has moved government funds through a network he ran to Fai and the council, which also has offices in London and Brussels, prosecutors said.
The council’s goal is to build support for Pakistani interests in Kashmir and offset lobbying by India over the disputed territory, the U.S. said in court papers.
“Mr. Fai is not a Pakistani citizen and the government and embassy of Pakistan have no knowledge of the case involving him,” Imran Gardezi, a spokesman for Pakistan’s Embassy in Washington, said in an e-mail.
No one answered the phone at the Kashmiri American Council.
Fai has donated more than $10,000 to federal politicians in the past five years, according to data compiled by the Washington-based Center for Responsive Politics.
Among his political contributions, Fai, in 2008 and again in 2010, gave $2,000 to U.S. Representative Dan Burton, an Indiana Republican. He also gave $5,000 to the National Republican Senatorial Committee in 2006, followed by a $1,000 contribution in 2008. He gave $250 to President Barack Obama’s campaign in 2008 and $250 to the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee in 2009.
Fai of Fairfax, Virginia, was arrested this morning and Ahmad remains at large. Both face a potential sentence of five years in prison if convicted.
Held in Custody
Fai, who appeared yesterday before Magistrate Judge Theresa Buchanan in Alexandria, was ordered to remain in custody and a detention hearing was scheduled for July 21, according to Peter Carr, a spokesman for U.S. Attorney Neil MacBride.
The most recent criminal prosecution under the Foreign Agents Registration Act was last year in Missouri, said Dean Boyd, a Justice Department spokesman.
Mark Siljander, a former congressman and U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations, pleaded guilty on July 10, 2010, to violations stemming from lobbying to remove an Islamic charity from a Senate list of those suspected of having terrorist ties. He failed to register with the U.S., according to the Justice Department. A second man, Abdel Azim El-Siddig, also pleaded guilty in connection with hiring Siljander.
The case against Fai and Ahmad originated with information provided to the FBI from a confidential witness in 2005. The informant, who was looking to have his jail sentence reduced, told investigators that Pakistan’s spy agency was using the Kashmiri American Council to further the interests of the government of Pakistan.
Control of Kashmir, a disputed territory between India and Pakistan, is divided between the two countries. The two nations are slated for peace talks at foreign minister level at the end of this month.
A second informant told investigators that the ISI created the council to “propagandize on behalf of the government of Pakistan with the goal of uniting Kashmir,” according to the charging document. This witness said the ISI had been directing Fai’s activities for the past 25 years, prosecutors said.
One of the informants described how on two occasions he was told by Ahmad how much money to transfer to Fai, according to charges. The informant took cash from his own business in $50 and $100 bills and placed it in a brown paper bag for Fai to pick up. Ahmad would then pay back the informant usually through a wire transfer from Pakistan, prosecutors said.
Electronic surveillance and Internet service provider and telephone records show that from 2006 to 2011, Fai was contacted by an alleged ISI official almost 2,000 times, according to charging documents. Fai was in contact with his “handlers” in Pakistan more than 4,000 times since June 2008, the document alleges.
Ahmad arranged for his contacts in the U.S. to provide money to Fai and repaid those individuals when they traveled to Pakistan, according to the charging documents. The charging papers list 11 unnamed donors, who the government alleges helped Pakistan funnel money into Washington. These “straw donors” include two physicians and their medical group.
“These other individuals assisted Ahmad in routing money to Fai because doing so ostensibly enables them to take tax deductions for the amounts that they transfer to the KAC as charitable donations,” Linden, the FBI agent, said in her affidavit.
Linden, who said Fai received from $500,000 to $700,000 per year from the government of Pakistan, said this network of individuals has been in place since 1993.
The case is U.S. v. Fai, 11-mj-00558, U.S. District Court, Eastern District of Virginia (Alexandria).
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