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Mosque’s financial manager indicted in purported theft of over $400,000

- The Washington Times - Friday, June 15, 2007

The longtime financial manager for the Islamic Center of Washington, one of the country's most prominent mosques, has been indicted on felony charges that he bilked the organization of more than $400,000.

Farzad Darui of Falls Church faces mail fraud, theft and other felony charges. He will plead not guilty at his arraignment in federal court in the District next week, his attorney said.

Prosecutors say Mr. Darui funneled money from the mosque's bank account by sending checks to two companies that he controlled based in Virginia from 2000 to last year.

In an FBI affidavit, authorities said Mr. Darui altered mosque checks to make them payable to Zaal Inc. and Blue Line Travel Inc., which Mr. Darui operated.

If convicted, prosecutors also are seeking forfeiture of $434,911, according to the indictment.

The Washington Times first reported on the criminal investigation last year.

Mr. Darui said in an interview last year with The Times that the accusations are "factually incorrect."

"This, from my point of view, is about me opposing a Saudi takeover of the center," Mr. Darui, who is originally from Iran, said last year.

His attorney, Victoria Toensing, yesterday said her client is innocent.

"The evidence will establish that he acted with the full knowledge and authority of the person running the Islamic Center," Mrs. Toensing said.

Officials at the center have declined to discuss the case. They filed a lawsuit against Mr. Darui in federal court in Alexandria last year, but a judge dismissed the case without prejudice, meaning it can be reinstated.

The center's director, Abdullah M. Khouj, approved various checks at Mr. Darui's request but never approved payments to Blue Line Travel or Zaal, according to the civil lawsuit.

The lawsuit said concern about the center's finances arose after Mr. Khouj ordered an independent audit because he was planning to leave his post to become Saudi ambassador to South Africa, the suit states.

Officials for the Islamic Center, located in the 2500 block of Massachusetts Avenue in Northwest, also have told their attorneys they discovered more than $300,000 in canceled checks since 2000 that were paid by the center to Zaal and Blue Line Travel, the lawsuit said.

For years, Mr. Darui acted as the public face of the center.

Dedicated in 1957, the Islamic Center is the nation's oldest mosque and serves thousands of local Muslims each month, including many from the diplomatic community.

The center is overseen by a board of governors that mostly consists of ambassadors from Islamic countries. Saudi Prince Bandar bin Sultan, former ambassador to the United States, is the current board chairman.

One of the most notable days in the center's history occurred in the days after the September 11 terrorist attacks, when President Bush visited the center, saying "the face of terror is not the true faith of Islam ... Islam is peace."