Prosecutor: Ore. man smuggled money to fund Muslim fighters in Chechnya

By Jeff Barnard, AP
Monday, August 30, 2010

Feds: Man smuggled money to fund Muslim fighters

EUGENE, Ore. — Lawyers for the prosecution and defense have outlined their cases to the jury in the trial of the co-founder of the U.S. branch of a defunct Islamic charity.

Pete Seda is accused of taking $150,000 from an Egyptian donor, laundering it through the charity, and trying to send it to Muslim revolutionaries in the Russian republic of Chechnya.

Federal prosecutor Chris Cardani said in opening statements Monday it’s a tax case, not a terrorism case. Cardani says Seda falsified records to avoid a paper trail for the money.

Defense attorney Larry Matasar says the defense agrees with many facts in the case but has a different way of looking at them. He says the defense will show many of the tax-form mistakes were made by the charity’s accountant, not Seda.

THIS IS A BREAKING NEWS UPDATE. Check back soon for further information. AP’s earlier story is below.

EUGENE, Ore. (AP) — Jury selection began Monday in the trial of a corporate officer in a defunct Islamic charity who is accused of taking $150,000 from an Egyptian donor, laundering it through the charity, and trying to send it to revolutionaries fighting to create an Islamic state in the Russian republic of Chechnya.

Pete Seda, also known as Pirouz Sedaghaty, faces charges of conspiracy, tax fraud and failing to report sending $150,000 out of the country.

He has pleaded not guilty, contending the money was for refugees, not fighters.

The federal indictment alleges that as secretary of Al-Haramain Islamic Foundation, Inc., in Ashland, Seda conspired with fellow foundation officer Soliman Hamd Al-Buthe to launder a contribution from an Egyptian man through the charity so that it looked like the money was being used to help buy a prayer house in Missouri. Instead, the government alleges Seda helped arrange for Al-Buthe to fly with the money to Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, where he deposited it in a bank.

Lawyers have been prohibited by the judge from referring to anyone in the trial as a terrorist, talking about the time Seda spent as a fugitive, or mentioning a separate case involving Al-Haramain where a federal judge ruled the government’s program of wiretapping suspected terrorists without getting a judge’s approval was illegal.

The U.S. government declared Al-Haramain a terrorist organization, seizing and selling off its assets, including the house in Ashland that served as U.S. headquarters for the charity and Seda’s home. The Saudi Arabian government dissolved the parent organization.

Born in Iran, Seda went to college in Ashland, Ore., staying on to raise a family and start an arborist business. As secretary of the foundation, he incorporated it in Oregon as a nonprofit charity dedicated to peaceful purposes. He often spoke out on the peaceful aspects of Islam on panel discussions and a local radio talk show.

Prior to his indictment, Seda left the country, but returned three years ago to face trial, and has been living in Portland, free on bail.

Al-Buthe was also indicted, but remains in Saudi Arabia, where he cannot be extradited.

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