- The Washington Times - Wednesday, May 21, 2008

A former top official at the Islamic Center of Washington D.C. stole more than $435,000 from the Saudi-financed mosque and fabricated his claim that the mosque director allowed him to take the money in order to support the director’s reputed mistresses, federal prosecutors said yesterday.

“It absolutely was not his money, and he stole it,” Assistant U.S. Attorney Ronald W. Sharpe told jurors during closing arguments in the trial of Farzad Darui. “He stole every penny of it.”

Mr. Darui, 48, has been charged in U.S. District Court with stealing the money from one of the country’s most prominent mosques during his time as business manager there.

The center on Massachusetts Avenue Northwest was dedicated in 1957 and is one of the oldest mosques in the nation. The Washington Times first reported the criminal investigation in 2006.

Court filings show that Saudi Arabia bankrolled and exercised financial control over the mosque, and attorneys say the Saudis sent $500,000 each year to the center.

Prosecutors said Mr. Darui funneled money - over 5 1/2 years beginning in 2000 - from the mosque’s bank accounts by sending checks to two Virginia-based companies that he controlled. They said that he altered mosque checks to make them payable to his businesses; that he had the center’s director, Abdullah M. Khouj, unknowingly endorse duplicate checks; and that he changed the center’s mailing address for a checking account to a post office box in the District to help conceal the theft.

During closing arguments yesterday, Mr. Sharpe and fellow prosecutor Tejpal Chawla told jurors that a “mountain of paper” in the case - from altered checks to fraudulent invoices recovered by investigators - show that Mr. Darui worked to deceive accountants, bank officials, the center’s directors and the Embassy of Saudi Arabia to perpetrate his scheme.

Mr. Darui used his power and authority “to take money from the center and to basically continue to get money from the Saudis as well,” Mr. Chawla said. “It was in fact a part-time job to continue to take money from the center.”

However, Mr. Darui’s defense attorneys contend that their client was authorized to take the money by Mr. Khouj, who had access to Saudi funds and who they say accrued a debt of about $300,000 to Mr. Darui for housing two women in various rental properties.

Papers filed by the defense last year say the debt was for “the housing and feeding” of the director’s “additional ‘wives’ or mistresses.”

Mr. Chawla said Mr. Darui’s claim that he used center funding to pay the debt - if there was one - is a “convenient fiction.”

But defense attorney Steven Webster challenged prosecutors’ arguments that one of the women received money for working for the center and was nothing more than a “charity case” for Mr. Khouj.

Calling the prosecution’s denial of a romantic relationship between the mosque director and the woman not “worthy of belief,” Mr. Webster said, “They had a serious relationship.”

Mr. Websteralso said the government produced no witnesses to show how Mr. Darui could have altered checks for his own benefit. He attacked the credibility of Mr. Khouj, who he said knew about the post office box and authorized a check to one of Mr. Darui’s companies despite denying that he knew about the company.

The defense questioned how Mr. Khouj could have endorsed unknowingly so many checks brought to him by Mr. Darui.

“It goes on for years, and Dr. Khouj didn’t notice. Did you believe him when he said that?” Mr. Webster asked the jury. “That man took an oath, and we have demonstrated that he has been untruthful about significant issues.”

Both men testified earlier in the two-week trial before Judge Royce C. Lamberth.

Mr. Darui faces a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison and a $250,000 fine if convicted. Prosecutors also are seeking to have him forfeit property that may have been derived from the suspected scheme.

Jurors are expected to begin their deliberations today.

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