HLF Judge Admits Palestinian Evidence
October 20, 2008
DALLAS – When jurors deliberate the fate of five former officials at the Holy Land Foundation for Relief and Development (HLF), they'll have something jurors in last year's mistrial didn't have.
On Monday, U.S. District Judge Jorge A. Solis admitted into evidence three exhibits from the Palestinian Authority (PA) that were seized by Israeli soldiers in 2002. Among them is a letter to the head of the PA General Intelligence office identifying the Ramallah Zakat committee as belonging to Hamas.
That's significant because the Ramallah committee is among the Palestinian charities that received HLF contributions. The defendants are charged with conspiring to provide material support to Hamas by routing millions of dollars to the terrorist group through a group of charities known as zakat committees.
The evidence was admitted after attorneys argued outside the jury's presence Monday morning. After that, an Israeli intelligence officer testifying under the pseudonym "Major Lior," discussed how some of the evidence was obtained. Israel raided PA offices after a spate of terrorist attacks in Israel, he said. He did not describe the documents in detail.
The exhibits were excluded as hearsay from the first HLF trial, which ended in a mistrial a year ago after jurors failed to reach unanimous verdicts on most counts. But since then, the PA shut down the zakat committees, saying they were tied to Hamas. In a brief filed before the retrial, prosecutors argued the Palestinian Authority validated the evidence because its actions closing the committees last December was "an effort to take control of the Hamas social infrastructure. Hamas correctly interpreted the PA measures as an attack on its charitable institutions."
According to the prosecution's exhibit list, the newly admitted evidence also includes a document on Hamas funding sources found inside PA General Security West Bank offices and an intelligence report about Hamas and the affiliation of members of the Ramallah zakat committee.
The rest of the day was spent on the cross-examination of Mohamed Shorbagi, a former HLF fundraiser. He pleaded guilty in August 2006 to providing material support to Hamas by routing money to HLF. Defense attorneys challenged Shorbagi's credibility as a witness, while the prosecution tried to show there were consequences if Shorbagi was found to have lied on the stand.
Joshua Dratel, attorney for defendant Mohammed El-Mezain, offered a series of examples of lies and misrepresentations he said Shorbagi made to government officials. For example, when Shorbagi's memory seemed fuzzy about a conversation with FBI agents that occurred before he was indicted, Dratel approached the stand to show Shorbagi a transcript of the conversation. Shorbagi didn't dispute it, acknowledging it showed him telling agents he was "pro Carter, pro Reagan, and pro Bush." Dratel then asked if he was pretending to be supportive of the U.S. presidents to "get on the agents' good side."
Shorbagi also denied viewing computer files related to Fatah and Hamas, a lie easily discovered upon further investigation. Shorbagi said he was frightened for his family at the time. Since then, he said, he realized he couldn't get away with lying to federal investigators and has been truthful.
Attorneys pursued Shorbagi's politics in other ways. He favors a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, which Hamas opposes, and he said he opposes suicide bombings. But Shorbagi said he still favors Hamas because of its humanitarian work, and that he trusts money sent to Hamas, not the PA-affiliated Fatah movement, will go towards helping the needy in Palestine.
Greg Westfall, who represents defendant Abdulrahman Odeh, asked Shorbagi about his stated support for notorious Hamas bomb-maker Yehya Ayyash, known as "the engineer." Though he facilitated suicide bombings, Ayyash was a hero, Shorbagi said.
"You just told us Ayyash was a great person," Westfall said. "Why was he a great person?" Because he resisted occupation, Shorbagi answered. Westfall then asked if "Taking care of the needy is a way of resisting the occupation?" Shorbagi agreed it was.
"Helping Palestinian people out, that is what is important?" Westfall asked. Shorbagi agreed.
On re-direct examination, federal prosecutor James Jacks asked Shorbagi what would happen if officials learned he provided false testimony or other misleading information. He, his wife and children would be deported, Shorbagi said, and likely would end up back in Gaza and subjected to Hamas security.
Would that cause him concern for his security? Jacks asked. "Yes, sir," Shorbagi said. Jacks also tried to show Shorbagi has learned his lesson in dealing with the government; he ended his cross examination by asking Shorbagi if he thought that "Following the law was important." Shorbagi calmly leaned into the microphone and quietly said, "I think that's why I'm in jail, sir."
More information about the zakat committees, and possibly more evidence seized from PA offices, could come later this week when a second Israeli official is expected to testify.