FBI arrest points to Pakistan influence-peddling scheme

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A Virginia man was arrested Tuesday by FBI agents in a suspected influence-peddling scheme to funnel millions of dollars from the Pakistani government, including its military intelligence service, to U.S. elected officials to help drive India out of the disputed Kashmir territory in South Asia.

Syed Ghulam Nabi Fai, 62, a U.S. citizen and resident of Fairfax, was charged with participating in a long-term conspiracy to secretly act as an agent of the Pakistani government in the U.S. without disclosing that affiliation as required by law.

Mr. Fai, executive director of the Kashmiri American Council (KAC) in Washington, is accused of submitting annual strategy reports and budgetary requirements to his Pakistani government handlers to secure U.S. congressional support to encourage the executive branch to support “self-determination” in Kashmir.

According to an FBI affidavit, he received “approximately $500,000 to $700,000 per year from the government of Pakistan” for contributions to members of Congress. But the Justice Department said there was no evidence to show that any of the elected officials who received the donations were aware the money originated from the Pakistani government.

A federal magistrate judge on Tuesday ordered Mr. Fai held until a detention hearing Thursday. Assistant U.S. Attorney Gordon Kromberg said Mr. Fai faces up to five years in prison if convicted.

While none of the beneficiaries of the donations was identified, Federal Election Commission (FEC) records show that both Democrats and Republicans were the recipients of contributions from Mr. Fai and the KAC. The largest donations were $9,500 to the National Republican Senatorial Committee (NRSC) and $7,500 to Rep. Dan Burton, Indiana Republican.

“I am deeply shocked by Dr. Fai’s arrest,” Mr. Burton said. “I’ve known Dr. Fai for 20 years and in that time I had no inkling of his involvement with any foreign intelligence operation and had presumed our correspondence was legitimate.

“For as long as I’ve known him, Dr. Fai has been either a permanent legal resident of the United States or a citizen and as such any political contributions I may have received from Dr. Fai over the years are completely legal,” he said. “However, if there is any doubt about the origin of these contributions, I will donate those funds to the Boy Scouts of America.”

Brian Walsh, a spokesman at the NRSC, said while the Fai donations predated the committee’s current leadership, the accusations were “very disturbing” and the committee would cooperate in any ongoing probe.

Although the charges do not include accusations of espionage, they come at a time of strained relationships between the U.S. and Pakistan, including a recent withholding of U.S. aid to Islamabad. A Navy SEAL team in May found and killed Osama bin Laden in a town dominated by the Pakistani military, reviving charges of official Pakistani complicity with al Qaeda and other Islamist terrorist groups.

The Pakistani Embassy in Washington, in a statement, said: “Fai is not a Pakistani citizen, and the government and embassy of Pakistan have no knowledge of the case involving him.”

Telephone calls to the KAC went unanswered.

Also named in the suspected scheme is Zaheer Ahmad, 63, a U.S. citizen who lives in Pakistan and is now considered a fugitive. He is accused of recruiting “straw donors” to contribute to the KAC, whose true source was the Pakistani government.

Mr. Fai and Mr. Ahmad were named in a one-count criminal complaint saying they conspired to act as an agent of a foreign government without registering with the attorney general in violation of the Foreign Agents Registration Act (FARA) and to falsify, conceal and cover up information they had a duty to disclose.

Mr. Fai is accused of a decades-long scheme with one purpose - to hide Pakistan’s involvement behind his efforts to influence the U.S. government’s position on Kashmir,” said U.S. Attorney Neil MacBride in Virginia. “His handlers in Pakistan allegedly funneled millions through the Kashmir Center to contribute to U.S. elected officials, fund high-profile conferences and pay for other efforts that promoted the Kashmiri cause to decision-makers in Washington.”

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