- The Washington Times - Thursday, August 16, 2007

A former top official for the Islamic Center of Washington says he was framed in a pending embezzlement case in retaliation for his practice of barring Islamic radicals from the mosque.

The more than $400,000 federal prosecutors say Farzad Darui stole stemmed an arrangement for the mosque’s director to pay back Mr. Darui for “the housing and feeding” of the director’s “additional ‘wives’ or mistresses,” according to papers filed by his attorney in federal court in the District yesterday.

Dedicated in 1957, the Islamic Center is the country’s oldest mosque and serves thousands of area Muslims each month, including many from the diplomatic community. But recent charges of embezzlement against Mr. Darui have placed it in a widening scandal.

Mr. Darui’s attorney, Victoria Toensing, yesterday filed more than 100 pages of documents that suggest a private-but-bitter struggle between moderate and extremist factions within the center, and a lax atmosphere in which mosque funds were used for personal purposes.

For years the mosque’s director, Abdullah M. Khouj, asked Mr. Darui to let various wives live in apartments that Mr. Darui owned in Virginia, according to the documents.

Messages left for Mr. Khouj at the center were not returned.

After years of Mr. Khouj promising to repay Mr. Darui, his attorneys argue, Mr. Khouj agreed to return the money.

“Any check cashed by Darui was with the full knowledge and authority of Khouj,” the defense filings state.

However, prosecutors say Mr. Darui, a U.S. citizen originally from Iran, used two companies based in Virginia under his control, called Blue Line Travel and Zaal Inc., to bilk the mosque of hundreds of thousands of dollars over the years. Mr. Darui was hired by the center in 1984, but the embezzlement occurred from 2000 to last year, authorities said.

An FBI affidavit filed before Mr. Darui“s indictment in June states he used a post office box in the District to conceal that he was altering mosque checks to make them payable to Virginia companies.

The affidavit also states the center’s director “had never authorized or signed a check payable to either Zaal entities or Blue Line entities.”

“Furthermore, the director stated that the center had never done business with either Zaal entities or Blue Line entities,” the FBI complaint states.

In court pleadings yesterday, Mr. Darui“s attorneys say Saudis exercised financial control of the mosque, including sending $600,000 a year to Mr. Khouj, who in turn used the money for administrative and personal costs.

Meanwhile, the mosque turned down major donations from other Muslim countries, the court filings state.

Mr. Darui“s attorneys also said their client at times ran afoul of others in the center by barring radicals from the mosque.

In one case, defense attorneys say Mr. Khouj invited Ali Al-Timimi to preach at the center, but Mr. Darui “refused to allow Timimi to return even though the Saudis sent messages to overrule that decision.” Timimi was later convicted in federal court in Virginia on terrorism-related charges.

Mr. Darui said in 2004 he tried to stop the Saudis from replacing Mr. Khouj with Ahmad bin Saifuddin Turkistani — a former director of the Institute of Islamic & Arab Sciences in America. Sen. Charles E. Grassley, Iowa Republican, a year earlier, put the group on a watch list of organizations suspected of laundering money for terrorism. No record could be found yesterday of charges filed against the group.

From then on, rumors began circulating that Mr. Darui had been embezzling money, his attorneys said.

Mr. Darui“s attorneys are seeking to have the charges against their client dismissed. A trial date had been set in December before U.S. District Court Judge Royce Lamberth.

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