Contrasting views of Ore. Islamic charity founder offered in closing arguments

By Nigel Duara, AP
Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Ore. Islamic charity trial goes to jury

EUGENE, Ore. — As the trial of a man accused of using an Oregon Islamic charity to smuggle money to Muslim fighters in Chechnya draws to a close, both sides have told federal court jurors their job is to determine the man’s intent when he failed to disclose about $150,000 that an associate took to Saudi Arabia.

Defense lawyers have described Pete Seda as a prominent Muslim in tiny Ashland who made friends with rabbis while adopting a centrist view of his faith.

Prosecutors say Seda was a closeted radical with ties to groups that smuggled cash to support the mujahedeen in Chechnya.

Jurors deliberated for about five hours Wednesday evening.

Seda is not charged with terrorism. He faces one count of conspiracy to defraud the U.S. government, and another count of filing a false return with the IRS.

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

EUGENE, Ore. (AP) — A jury will have to determine whether a man’s failure to disclose $150,000 on federal tax forms was an effort to smuggle money to Muslim fighters in Chechnya or just an oversight by an accountant.

Prosecutors told jurors during closing statements Wednesday that Pete Seda was a closeted Muslim radical with ties to groups that smuggled cash to support the mujahedeen in Chechnya. His attorneys portrayed the Ashland, Ore., man as a friendly pillar of the community who stood for moderate Islamic principles.

Seda, also known as Pirouz Sedaghaty, has pleaded not guilty to a count of conspiracy to defraud the U.S. government and a count of filing a false return with the IRS. He is not charged with terrorism. A co-defendant, Soliman Al-Buthe, faces the same charges but cannot be extradited from Saudi Arabia.

Despite the fact that Seda is on trial on tax charges, prosecutors attempted throughout the trial to show Seda’s affiliations with international radical Muslim groups. Seda is the head of the U.S. chapter of Al-Haramain Islamic Foundation Inc., which has been declared a terrorist organization by the U.S. government.

Prosecutors say he used the charity as a cover for smuggling the money to help Muslim fighters trying to overthrow the government of Chechnya.

Seda is accused of failing to disclose the money from an Egyptian donor in London on Al-Haramain’s tax return. Prosecutors allege that in 2000, Al-Buthe, a foundation officer, took the money to Saudi Arabia without declaring the large sum, then deposited in a bank there.

Defense attorney Steven Wax said the money was for a tithe, and meant for refugees. Under Islamic law, tithes are prohibited from being used for anything besides charity for the needy, he said.

Wax also said that if Seda was conspiring to hide the money, he would not have hired an accountant to handle the foundation’s tax return or warned the tax preparer that he anticipated an audit “because (Seda) is a Muslim.”

Assistant U.S. Attorney Christopher Cardani said that if the money was for a legitimate purpose, Seda would have publicly announced it.

“If everything was on the up-and-up with Mr. Seda and his organization, why not broadcast to the world what he did, to get humanitarian relief to a war zone,” Cardani said. “He had a motive to conceal.”

Cardani said that since Chechnyan rebels have no state sponsorship, they must rely on global cash donations from Islamic charities to fund the fighting.

“(Donations) can disappear into the never-never land of terrorism,” Cardani said. “This is how wars are fought.”

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