A Virginia man pleaded guilty Wednesday to secretly receiving millions of dollars from the government of Pakistan to influence American policy toward the disputed region of Kashmir.
Syed Ghulam Nabi Fai, who pleaded guilty at a hearing in U.S. District Court in Alexandria, was arrested in July in connection with a decades-long scheme to conceal at least $3.5 million in contributions from Pakistan's powerful military intelligence agency, the ISI, to influence the U.S. government's position on Kashmir.
Also charged in the complaint was Zaheer Ahmad, an American citizen living in Pakistan at the time. Ahmad helped transfer money coming from the Pakistani government to Fai through straw donors operating businesses and charities. He died of a stroke in September.
The hotly contested region of Kashmir has been a military flashpoint sparking four bloody wars between India and Pakistan since the two countries gained independence from British rule in 1947.
Fai served as executive director of the Kashmiri American Council (KAC), a Washington, D.C.-based lobbying and public relations firm "dedicated to raising the level of knowledge in the United States about the struggle of the Kashmiri people for self-determination." According to court documents, KAC was secretly funded by the government of Pakistan, including the ISI. Documents detail budgets for KAC lobbying efforts that included hundreds of thousands of dollars annually for "campaign contributions to members of Congress, conferences, seminars, opinion pieces to be distributed to newspapers, and Congressional trips to Kashmir."
Fai pleaded guilty to both counts of the criminal information that included conspiracy to act as an unregistered agent of a foreign government in violation of the Foreign Agents Registration Act (FARA) and tax violations.
"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 announcing the plea. "As a paid operative of the 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," MacBride added.
The Investigative Project on Terrorism reported earlier on Fai's ties to Islamist groups in the U.S. Fai has also been reported to work as a financial conduit for the Hizbul Mujahideen that has been designated by Indian and European governments as a terrorist organization.
Fai's sentencing is scheduled for March 9, 2012 and he faces a potential maximum sentence of five years in prison for the conspiracy count, and a maximum of three years in prison for the tax violation. His conviction proves yet again the validity of the Justice Department pursuing Foreign Agent Registration Act (FARA) violations in national security related cases where the evidence is indicated and circumstances warrant. Those circumstances may provide an updated variant of the tried and true "Al Capone" concept in targeting complex and multi-faceted criminal enterprises in the counter-terrorism and national security arena, particularly when those cases involve suspects and organizations that use seemingly legitimate front enterprises and activities to cover their illicit foreign-based criminality.