Pete Seda pleads not guilty -Al Haramain director returns to Oregon to face trial for funding Chechen mujahideen
August 26, 2007
Islamic ex-director pleads not guilty
By WILLIAM McCALL Associated Press Writer
The fugitive former director of a defunct Islamic charity pleaded not guilty to federal conspiracy and tax fraud charges after returning voluntarily to the United States to fight the allegations. Pirouz Sedaghaty, 49, also known as Pete Seda, a native of Iran who is a U.S. citizen, made a brief appearance before U.S. Magistrate Judge Thomas Coffin in Eugene after he was arrested at the customs checkpoint at Portland International Airport.
Sedaghaty is accused of helping to smuggle $150,000 out of the United States to aid Muslim fighters in Chechnya while he was secretary of the Al-Haramain Islamic Foundation chapter in Ashland, Ore. The foundation was based in Saudi Arabia, which dissolved the charity in 2004 after the U.S. Treasury Department designated it an organization that supports terrorism. Sedaghaty has insisted his chapter of the foundation was not involved, despite its addition to the Treasury Department list in September 2004. His attorneys declined to say Wednesday where Sedaghaty had been living the past four years.
Government documents allege the U.S. citizen moved to Dubai in 2003. Tom Nelson, a Portland attorney who accompanied Sedaghaty on a flight from Frankfurt, Germany, said Sedaghaty was glad to return to Oregon, where he had settled after attending Southern Oregon University and establishing a career as an urban forester and arborist in Ashland. "Pete has wanted to come home for some time, and he has wanted to clear his name," Nelson said. He called the government case against Sedaghaty is "weak" and noted that despite the tax fraud charge, "not one penny of tax money is at stake here."
Assistant U.S. Attorney Chris Cardani, who is handling the case, declined to comment. Sedaghaty founded the Oregon chapter of Al-Haramain with a Saudi citizen, Soliman al-Buthi, who returned to Saudi Arabia in 2001. Unlike Sedaghaty, al-Buthi has been labeled a "specially designated global terrorist" and is considered an international fugitive, although he is working as a government official in Saudi Arabia. Nelson this month filed a federal lawsuit seeking to remove the Oregon chapter of Al-Haramain from the federal terrorism list.
Former head of Islamic charity returning
http://blog.oregonlive.com/breakingnews/2007/08/portland_ore_ap_the.html Pete Seda, the Ashland tree trimmer who once ran what the government says was a terrorist organization, is expected to surrender to federal authorities today, returning from overseas to face charges he helped launder money to foreign Islamic fighters. Seda, 49, also known as Pirouz Sedaghaty, left Ashland in 2003 after being questioned by federal agents investigating his charity, Al Haramain Islamic Foundation Inc. Two years later while Seda was still out of the country, federal prosecutors charged him with conspiracy and tax fraud for illegally moving $150,000 out of the United States. Seda was scheduled to fly into Portland today, voluntarily returning to face the federal criminal charges. Tom Nelson, Seda's lawyer, has said Seda insists he is innocent and that his charity had no involvement in terrorism. "He is voluntarily returning home to clear his name," Nelson told The Associated Press. "He always said he would return and is now looking forward to working again in the community."
Seda returned the same day federal judges in San Francisco were scheduled to hear arguments in a key case involving Seda's charity. The charity has been in national headlines in recent days because it's trying to prove President Bush illegally spied on the foundation and its attorneys. A federal appeals court was to consider arguments over procedural matters in that case today. Seda left his native Iran for the U.S. in the 1970s and settled in Ashland. He operated a string of businesses but was most successful as an arborist. He also became known as a moderate Muslim eager to educate others about Islam. In 1989, he set up a small foundation to distribute religious literature, mostly to prisoners across the country.
According to court records, representatives of a major Saudi Arabian charity known as Al-Haramain Islamic Foundation approached him in 1997 about linking up. Seda formed the American branch of the foundation, using Saudi money to buy property for an Ashland prayer house. He later established the foundation as a U.S. charity, listing three Saudis as directors and officers in the foundation. The charity and two of the Saudi directors later were designated terrorist supporters by the U.S. and the United Nations. The terrorist designation by the Treasury Department in September 2004 shut down the charity, which by then had become a lifeless shell with Seda's absence. Funded by donations from Saudi Arabia, lawyers for the charity recently sued to clear the charity of its terrorist label.
Seda's criminal trouble can be traced to his charity's role in underwriting the purchase of an Islamic prayer house in Springfield, Mo. Al Haramain's federal tax return listed the price of the purchase, but federal prosecutors later charged the accounting was deliberately false. Prosecutors charged that money listed as going toward the purchase actually went overseas Chechen mujahedeen fighting a "jihad" against Russian forces. According the indictment and a federal affidavit, an Egyptian donor sent nearly $150,000 to the American charity in 2000. Seda and one of the Saudi directors, Soliman al-Buthi, converted that and other funds into 130 $1,000 traveler's checks and a cashier's check that al-Buthi then carried out of Oregon back to Saudi Arabia, according to the indictment.
The money was passed on to the Saudi charity for the Chechen fighters, the indictment said. The charity has said there was nothing illegal about the use of the money, that it was used for humanitarian purposes in conjunction with official Russian organizations. Al-buthi has said through his lawyers that he made a mistake in not reporting that he was taking money out of the country. Al-Buthi, an official in the Riyadh government, remains under indictment in the Oregon case but is barred by his own government from traveling outside Saudi Arabia, his lawyers say. firstname.lastname@example.org