- The Washington Times - Saturday, November 8, 2008

Defense attorneys called on a judge Friday to drop embezzlement charges against a former top official at the Islamic Center of Washington, D.C., asserting that the prosecution’s star witness committed perjury and obstructed justice.

Prosecutors contend Farzad Darui stole more than $435,000 from the Saudi-financed mosque while he was business manager there. The first trial ended in a mistrial earlier this year when a jury could not reach a verdict. A date has not been set for a retrial.

The key witness against Mr. Darui is the center’s director, Abdullah M. Khouj. But defense attorneys say Mr. Khouj actually directed Mr. Darui to take the money. They argue Mr. Khouj committed perjury and prosecutors knew it, an accusation prosecutors deny.

Mr. Darui’s lawyer, Victoria Toensing, said the money was used to pay for sensitive security measures, such as keeping watch on Muslim extremists who threatened the influential mosque and Islamic cultural center.

Miss Toensing said money also went toward the living expenses of at least two mistresses of Mr. Khouj, who was married. She said most of the money went to one of the mistresses, Debbi Estrada, who the defense said married Mr. Khouj in an Islamic ceremony.

Before the trial, according to Miss Toensing, Mr. Khouj said he did not know Miss Estrada’s whereabouts. 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 last week 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.

In a court filing Friday, Miss Toensing argued that the prosecution’s denial actually bolsters the defense’s claim.

“Notwithstanding its attempt to cloak the misconduct as innocent,” she wrote, “the government admits the core of defendant Farzad Darui’s complaint: that Dr. Abdullah M. Khouj, the government’s essential witness, paid for the housing and feeding of a witness who could have supported Darui’s defense.”

In addition to denying the defense’s accusations of obstruction of justice, prosecutors also dismiss assertions that Mr. Khouj committed perjury.

“Mere self-serving statements made by defendant, no matter how boldly stated, cannot establish that Dr. Khouj committed perjury,” Assistant U.S. Attorneys Tejpal S. Chawla and Ronald W. Sharpe wrote in a response to the defense’s motion to dismiss.

Miss Toensing has asked U.S. District Court Judge Royce C. Lamberth to schedule a hearing to consider dismissing the charges. Prosecutors oppose such a hearing. At the very least, Miss Toensing argued, Mr. Khouj should be barred from testifying at Mr. Darui’s next trial.

“Without Khouj there is no case,” she wrote. “Another trial, another round of perjury. Where does it stop?”

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