RIYADH: A US court has convicted Pete Seda, cofounder of the Riyadh-based Al-Haramain Islamic Foundation in Oregon, of tax fraud and conspiracy, while another US court has dismissed the foundation's co-director Soliman AlButhi in the 9/11 terror-funding case filed by the families of victims of the attacks.
"Such judgments indicate a sharp contrast in the American position and explicitly explain how Islamophobia is on parade in the US," said Thomas H. Nelson, the attorney representing AlButhi.
Nelson, speaking by telephone from the US on Saturday, also said that in addition to convicting Seda, the Oregon court also convicted AlButhi, adding that the New York court has acquitted AlButhi and several prominent personalities including Abdullah Omar Naseef and Yassin Abdullah Al-Qadi because of its lack of jurisdiction in the 9/11 case.
Al-Haramain Foundation, a Saudi aid organization, was forced to end its operations when the US government accused it of supporting terrorism in 2001. The Riyadh-based charity's main office, which was headed by Aqeel Al-Aqeel, is now defunct.
Al-Aqeel has also been acquitted as per the verdict from terrorism charges filed by the victims of 9/11 attacks. This case was heard in a court in the southern district of New York.
The other case, in which AlButhi and Seda have been convicted and are to be sentenced on Nov. 23, was heard by a "highly biased" Eugene, Oregon jury, said Nelson. "The US government relied extensively on Islamophobia in an attempt to secure a conviction in the Al-Haramain case," he added.
AlButhi is a Saudi national who set up the US branch of the now-defunct Al-Haramain in Oregon with his Iranian-American friend Pete Seda. He is currently chief of the environment department at Riyadh Municipality.
The US federal jury convicted Seda, a US citizen, who was accused of helping to smuggle $150,000 to Muslim fighters in Chechnya. Prosecutors are now pushing for a "substantial sentence" after the two men's conviction. Seda was convicted of one count of conspiracy to defraud the government and one count of filing a false tax return. His lawyers said they would appeal.
"The verdict is a devastating blow to Seda and his family," said another defense attorney, Steven Wax, in a statement. "We will be pursuing a just result of this case to the highest court in the land, if need be," he added.
Referring to the Oregon verdict, Nelson said that "there is a clear indication of overall bias in the record and frankly from my perspective there are already serious reversible errors."
Referring to the trial, he said that an American customs official testified that AlButhi was required to report that he was taking funds with him while flying out of the US.
"But on cross examination, the same customs official admitted that unlike the landing forms that one has to fill out at the airports when entering the US, there are no similar mandatory forms for those departing the US," said Nelson.
Seda claimed the money was intended as a tithe that his accountant failed to disclose on a tax return for the US chapter of the Al-Haramain Foundation in Ashland, Oregon.
AlButhi said that at least one of the US courts has finally realized about the innocence in 9/11 cases. Referring to the conviction in the other case being heard at the Oregon court, AlButhi called on the US and Saudi officials to ensure justice for all. "The US is a close ally of Saudi Arabia and we expect a fair trial and justice."
He said that all those named in the 9/11 terror-funding case including Al-Qadi had succeeded in having the civil claims brought against them in the US dismissed in their entirety.
Seda helped open a branch of the now-defunct Saudi charity to improve the understanding of Islam and relations with Muslims. The judgment by the southern district court of New York in the 9/11 terror-funding case has also acquitted Saleh Kamel and Dallah Al-Baraka LLC, Dar Al-Mal Islami Trust, the late Jamal Khalifa, the Islamic Assembly of North America, Sami Al-Hussayen, Adnan Basha, the Switzerland-based Banca Del Gottardo bank, the Council of American-Islamic Relations, Sulaiman Al-Ali, the late Prince Abdullah Al-Faisal bin Abdulaziz, and SAAR Networks' entities and individuals.
September 18, 2010, Arab News