- The Washington Times - Thursday, December 18, 2008

A former top official charged with embezzling more than $435,000 from the Islamic Center in the District has filed a lawsuit against the prosecution’s star witness, a highly unusual tactic before a criminal trial, highlighting the contentious nature of the case.

Farzad Darui, the former manager of the Saudi-financed mosque and cultural center, is suing the center and its director, Abdullah M. Khouj, for $5 million. The suit accuses the influential center and Mr. Khouj of malicious prosecution and was filed late last week in state court in Virginia.

Mr. Khouj testified against Mr. Darui during a criminal trial earlier this year that ended in a hung jury. The date for a second trial has not been set.

Mr. Khouj maintains Mr. Darui stole the money and took great pains to cover his misdeeds. Mr. Darui has countered that Mr. Khouj authorized him to take the money to pay for sensitive security measures at the mosque and for the living expenses of two of Mr. Khouj’s mistresses.

The lawsuit filed last week relates both to the criminal case and a prior suit filed by the Islamic Center against Mr. Darui. That suit contained essentially the same allegations against Mr. Darui that are at the heart of the criminal case.

The lawsuit against Mr. Darui was voluntarily dismissed after criminal charges were brought against him in 2006. Despite the dismissal, the suit against Mr. Darui could be refiled.

Mr. Darui’s lawyers - Victoria Toensing, Steven Webster and Aaron Book - claim the accusations against their client, first in the civil suit and then in the criminal case, are the result of lies by Mr. Khouj. The lawyers said Mr. Khouj’s false statement, the original lawsuit and the publicity surrounding it led prosecutors to file the criminal charges against Mr. Darui.

They wrote in the lawsuit that the cost to Mr. Darui has been great: “As a result of Khouj’s false allegations, Darui was removed from his job as manager of the Islamic Center.”

Mr. Khouj’s lawyer, Robert Watkins, declined to comment about the lawsuit.

While it is uncommon to file such a suit, it continued the defense’s strategy of vigorously attacking Mr. Khouj’s credibility.

In recent months, Miss Toensing has filed motions claiming Mr. Khouj committed perjury and obstructed justice during the first trial. She further accuses prosecutors of knowing about it.

Before the trial, according to Miss Toensing, Mr. Khouj said he did not know the whereabouts of Debbie Estrada, one of Mr. Khouj’s mistresses whose living expenses accounted for most of the money in question. But the defense said it later learned that the Islamic Center had paid $500 a month for Miss Estrada to live in an apartment in Arlington.

Miss Toensing argued that Mr. Khouj’s actions amounted to obstruction of justice.

Mr. Khouj has denied having a relationship with Miss Estrada. Prosecutors said in a court filing that Mr. Khouj did not help Miss Estrada find the apartment and that the Islamic Center did not begin paying her living expenses until after the trial. They stand behind Mr. Khouj’s testimony and dismiss the accusations of misconduct.

“In essence, defendant argues that because his testimony conflicts with that of Dr. Khouj, a key government witness, therefore the government witness must be lying and should be precluded from testifying in the upcoming retrial, or better yet that the superseding indictment should be dismissed,” Assistant U.S. Attorneys James Mitzelfeld and Tejpal Chawla wrote in a court filing.

“As defendant knows, when two witnesses provide conflicting testimony, the only legal remedy available is for the jury to determine which witness to believe and credit their testimony accordingly.”

U.S. District Court Judge Royce C. Lamberth is considering whether to hold a hearing in which defense attorneys will ask him to dismiss the charges or, at the very least, bar Mr. Khouj from testifying during Mr. Darui’s next trial. Prosecutors oppose such a hearing.

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