- The Washington Times - Wednesday, October 11, 2006

The Islamic Center of Washington, D.C., one of the most prominent mosques in the country, is accusing its longtime financial manager of embezzling hundreds of thousands of dollars by funneling checks to companies under his control.

Farzad Darui of Falls Church was suspended last month as financial manager of the center, according to court records.

Officials for the Islamic Center, located in the 2500 block of Massachusetts Avenue Northwest, have told their attorneys that they discovered more than $300,000 in canceled checks since 2000 that were paid by the center to at least two Virginia companies under Mr. Darui’s control, court records show.

Center officials have declined to discuss the matter but detailed the scandal in a recent lawsuit against Mr. Darui in federal court in Alexandria.

No criminal charges have been filed in the case.

According to the federal lawsuit, since the mid-1990s, Mr. Darui has handled the finances of the Northwest mosque, which receives funding from Saudi Arabia.

For years, Mr. Darui prepared checks to legitimate entities, then after getting the required approval, altered the names of the payees to businesses under his control, including Virginia-based Blue Line Travel Inc. and Zaal Inc., the lawsuit states.

Mr. Darui yesterday called the lawsuit “factually incorrect,” but referred questions about specific accusations in the suit to his attorney, Victoria Toensing. She declined to discuss the case.

“This, from my point of view, is about me opposing a Saudi takeover of the center,” said Mr. Darui, who is a corporate officer for Blue Line Travel Inc. and Zaal Inc. “They’ve been trying to unilaterally appoint a new Saudi director without going through the board.”

Mr. Darui frequently has served as the public face of the center and has been quoted in several national and international publications.

A woman who answered the phone at the Islamic Center yesterday said that officials have no comment on any matters in connection with Mr. Darui’s employment.

The center’s director, Abdullah M. Khouj, approved various checks at Mr. Darui’s request but never approved payments to Blue Line Travel, which also is referred to as BLT Inc. in the lawsuit, or Zaal Inc., according to the lawsuit.

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.

Mr. Khouj asked Mr. Darui to commission the audit, but Mr. Darui put the matter off, the suit says. Ultimately, Mr. Khouj obtained copies of canceled checks from Bank of America and found previously undisclosed payments to Blue Line Travel and Zaal Inc.

“Neither Dr. Khouj nor anyone else at the Islamic Center ever authorized checks to be written to Blue Line Travel Inc., BLT Inc., Zaal Inc., or any other companies controlled or owned by Mr. Darui,” the suit states.

Mr. Darui declined to discuss questions about Zaal Inc. or Blue Line but said “things will be clarified” when his attorney files an answer to the lawsuit.

According to the suit, the center receives funding from Saudi Arabia and is required to send copies of its checks to the Saudi Embassy in the District.

Dedicated in 1957, the Islamic Center is the District’s oldest mosque and serves thousands of local Muslims each month.

The center is ruled 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.

The mosque has been a focal point in the District. Days after the September 11 terrorist attacks, President Bush visited the center to call for an end to violence against Muslims.

In March 1977, a dozen Muslim gunmen took over the center, the B’nai B’rith headquarters and the District Building, holding 139 persons hostage. One person was fatally shot during the siege. Marion Barry, who was wounded in the incident, won his first mayoral election the following year.

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