A Kashmir activist who prosecutors said aided a “decades-long” operation by Pakistan’s spy agency to influence U.S. policy was sentenced to two years in prison.
Syed Ghulam Nabi Fai, 62, was sentenced today in federal court in Alexandria, Virginia, after pleading guilty in December to one count of conspiracy to defraud the U.S. and one count of impeding the administration of tax laws.
“Your zealousness overwhelmed your good judgment,” U.S. District Judge Liam O’Grady said, adding that Fai willingly took money from Pakistan’s spy agency and acted as “their voice in the mission to bring peace to Kashmir.”
Fai, who faced as long as eight years in prison, sought home confinement. Prosecutors told the judge that Fai deserved four years.
Fai admitted to accepting at least $3.5 million from Pakistan’s government to fund the Washington-based Kashmiri American Council, or KAC, which worked to sway the attitudes of U.S. lawmakers on the disputed territory. He said he illegally concealed the money from the U.S. on tax forms by denying the council received money from foreign sources.
Fai also admitted he lied to FBI agents when he told them in 2007 that he never met anyone affiliated with Pakistan’s spy agency.
‘My Adopted Country’
“I never intended to harm anybody,” Fai told the judge today. “I never intended to harm the United States, my adopted country, its people and its government.”
The council, which Fai headed at the time of his arrest in July, is “actually run” by elements of the Pakistani government, including the country’s military intelligence service, the Inter-Services Intelligence Agency, or ISI, prosecutors said. The council’s goal is to build support for Pakistan’s interests in Kashmir and offset lobbying by India, they said.
“For more than 20 years, Mr. Fai operated KAC as a front for Pakistan’s intelligence agency,” Assistant U.S. Attorney Gordon Kromberg told the judge. He said that Fai hasn’t shown any regrets for his conduct.
“His remorse is for being exposed as a fraud,” he said.
Fai’s lawyer, Nina Ginsberg, called the government’s position “appalling” and said the U.S. has spent 20 years tracking her client through wiretaps in an attempt to show that he’s a Pakistani agent.
“Couldn’t Prove It’
“They couldn’t prove it,” she told the judge. “There’s not one example of a public statement by Mr. Fai, not one word that is anything that can be characterized as propaganda by the Pakistani government.”
Pakistan and India, which have split control of Kashmir since 1948, fought wars over the territory in 1965 and 1999.
Fai, a Pakistani immigrant and U.S. citizen living in Fairfax, Virginia, was charged in July with conspiracy to violate the Foreign Agents Registration Act and lying to federal agents. He was charged along with Zaheer Ahmad, a U.S. citizen who remains at large, according to prosecutors. The pair failed to disclose their affiliation with Pakistan’s government as required by law, prosecutors said.
As part of his plea, Fai agreed to pay about $200,000 to the IRS and forfeit about $143,000 the government seized from five bank accounts in Virginia and Washington, according to court papers. Fai also agreed to cooperate with any federal investigation.
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, and money for seminars and conferences, prosecutors said in a court filing.
“He lied to the Justice Department, the IRS, and many political leaders throughout the U.S. as he pushed the ISI’s propaganda on Kashmir,” U.S. Attorney Neil MacBride said in a statement.
One document found in the search called for $100,000 for contributions to members of Congress in 2009, prosecutors said. Fai, who admitted the conspiracy took place from 1990 until July 18, said he submitted annual budget requests of about $500,000 to $700,000 to officials of the government of Pakistan, including the ISI.
Ginsberg said today that Pakistan wasn’t looking for Fai to be its mouthpiece in Washington, rather the country “purchased” information from Fai. Pakistan was paying Fai to learn who he was talking to and what he was discussing.
“They were getting information much the same way the government of the United States was doing through FISA warrants,” she said, referring to court permissions to monitor communications of suspected spies.
Since the mid-1990s, Ahmad, an American living in Pakistan, moved government funds to Fai and the council, which also has offices in London and Brussels, prosecutors said.
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.
The case is U.S. v. Fai, 11-00561, U.S. District Court, Eastern District of Virginia (Alexandria).