By Tom Schoenberg for Bloomberg Businessweek
A Virginia man admitted to aiding what prosecutors said was a “decades-long” operation by Pakistan’s spy agency to influence U.S. policy on Kashmir through unregistered lobbying and campaign contributions to members of Congress.
Syed Ghulam Nabi Fai, 62, pleaded guilty today in federal court in Alexandria, Virginia, to one count of conspiracy to defraud the U.S. and one count of impeding the administration of tax laws. He faces as long as eight years in prison when he’s sentenced on March 9. U.S. District Judge Liam O’Grady agreed to let Fai remain free until sentencing.
Fai admitted to helping funnel at least $3.5 million from Pakistan’s government through the Washington-based Kashmiri American Council to sway the attitudes of U.S. lawmakers on the disputed territory with campaign contributions and other lobbying activities.
The council, which was headed by Fai at the time of his arrest in July, is “actually run” by elements of the Pakistani government, including Pakistan’s military intelligence service, the Inter-Services Intelligence Agency, or ISI, prosecutors said.
Pakistan and India, which have split control of the territory since 1948, fought wars over Kashmir in 1965 and 1999.
“For the last 20 years, Mr. Fai secretly took millions of dollars from Pakistani intelligence and lied about it to the U.S. government,” U.S. Attorney Neil MacBride said in a statement. “As a paid operative of ISI, he did the bidding of his handlers in Pakistan while he met with U.S. elected officials, funded high-profile conferences, and promoted the Kashmiri cause to decision-makers in Washington.”
Fai, a Pakistani immigrant and U.S. citizen living in Fairfax, Virginia, was charged in July with conspiracy to violate the Foreign Agents Registration Act and lying to federal agents. He was charged along with Zaheer Ahmad, 63, a U.S. citizen who remains at large, according to prosecutors. The pair failed to disclose their affiliation with Pakistan’s government as required by law, prosecutors said.
On Nov. 23, the government separated Fai’s case from Ahmad’s and added the charge of impeding the Internal Revenue Service.
As part of his plea, Fai agreed to pay about $200,000 to the IRS and forfeit about $143,000 the government seized from five bank accounts in Virginia and Washington, according to court papers. Fai also agreed to cooperate with any federal investigation.
Fai said little during today’s plea hearing. He answered “No sir” when O’Grady asked if he disagreed with any of the information contained in the statement of facts submitted by the government outlining the conspiracy and his ties to the ISI.
Fai admitted that during an interview with Federal Bureau of Investigation agents in July, he “falsely denied” that he or the council received money from the ISI or the government of Pakistan, according to the statement of facts.
A search of Fai’s home, office and a storage facility turned up documents detailing the council’s Washington strategies, including budget requirements for contributions to members of Congress and trips to Kashmir for lawmakers, money for opinion pieces distributed to the media, as well as money for seminars and conferences, prosecutors said in a court filing. One document found in the search called for $100,000 for contributions to members of Congress in 2009, prosecutors said.
Fai, who admitted the conspiracy took place from 1990 until July 18, said he submitted annual budget requests of about $500,000 to $700,000 to officials of the government of Pakistan, including the ISI.
Since the mid-1990s, Ahmad, an American living in Pakistan, has moved government funds through a network he ran to Fai and the council, which also has offices in London and Brussels, prosecutors said.
The council’s goal is to build support for Pakistani interests in Kashmir and offset lobbying by India over the disputed territory, the U.S. said in court papers.
Fai has donated more than $10,000 to federal politicians in the past five years, according to data compiled by the Washington-based Center for Responsive Politics.
Among his political contributions, Fai, in 2008 and again in 2010, gave $2,000 to U.S. Representative Dan Burton, an Indiana Republican, according to the center. He also gave $5,000 to the National Republican Senatorial Committee in 2006, followed by a $1,000 contribution in 2008. He gave $250 to President Barack Obama’s campaign in 2008 and $250 to the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee in 2009.
The case is U.S. v. Fai, 11-00561, U.S. District Court, Eastern District of Virginia (Alexandria).