The founder of an Islamic charity convicted of conspiring to move money out of the United States without declaring it, and with filing false tax return to hide the fact that the money ever existed, has filed a motion for a new trial.
Seda, the founder of al Haramain Islamic Founation, was convicted by a federal jury in Oregon on September 9, after a week long trial demonstrated his role in transferring $150,000 to Chechen mujahideen. According to federal officials, Seda accepted a large donation intended to support "our Muslim brothers in Chychnia," and then surreptitiously shifted the money to Saudi Arabia in the form of difficult to trace traveler's checks.
But, despite the evidence admitted at trial, on September 25, the defense team filed a motion demanding that the court throw out the guilty verdict and hold a new trial. Their motion was based, in part, on "the cumulative prejudicial impact of the government focus on Islam, terrorism, and anti-Semitism in a case that is charged as essentially a tax case."
In seeking the new trial, the defense argued that the jury was pre-disposed to anti-Islamic sentiments, and that the government selectively introduced evidence at trial in order to force jurors to draw the conclusion that Seda was a radical Islamist.
According to defense attorneys the problems in the case began during jury selection:
"During the questioning of the prospective jurors, the presence in the jury pool of strong and emotional anti-Islamic sentiment became apparent…[But defense counsel was] prohibited from determining how many other jurors held similar views."
But the selection of an allegedly "anti-Muslim" jury was not all that the defense complained about in their motion for a new trial.
Referencing federal prosecutor Chris Cardani's admonition that "the government is not accusing Mr. Sedaghaty for being a terrorist," the defense argued the case was fraught with references to terrorism. And while the prosecution said that the case was not about Islam, "during closing arguments, prosecutor Chris Cardani was waiving the Qur'an around and then tossed it down on the table in front of the jury." These, and other actions, defense attorneys argued, prejudiced the jury and are grounds for a new trial.
The prosecution has not yet responded to the defense motion, and sentencing is set for November 23. Seda has been in the custody of federal marshals since he was found guilty.