The fugitive former director of a defunct Islamic charity has decided to return to the United States to face federal tax charges accusing him of sending money to Muslim fighters in Chechnya, his attorney said today.
Pirouz Sedaghaty, also known as Pete Seda, is facing conspiracy, money laundering and tax fraud charges claiming he helped smuggle $150,000 out of the United States to Saudi Arabia through the charity, then filed a false tax return to cover it up.
Sedaghaty, a native of Iran who is a U.S. citizen, decided it was time to confront the charges, his attorney, Tom Nelson, told The Associated Press.
"He is voluntarily returning home to clear his name," Nelson said. "He always said he would return and is now looking forward to working again in the community."
Sedaghaty was co-director of the Al-Haramain Islamic Foundation chapter in Ashland, which the U.S. Treasury Department in September 2004 designated as a group supporting terrorism.
Sedaghaty, who left the country in 2003, founded the chapter with a Saudi citizen, Soliman al-Buthi, who returned to Saudi Arabia in 2001.
Unlike Sedaghaty, al-Buthi has been labeled a "specially designated global terrorist" and is considered an international fugitive even though he is working as a government official in Saudi Arabia.
The Al-Haramain foundation, based in Riyadh, was dissolved by the Saudi government in 2004. The federal investigation of the Oregon chapter of Al-Haramain became public late in 2003, surprising many in Ashland, where Sedaghaty had attended Southern Oregon University and decided to launch a career as an urban forester. He was known for his work to save trees threatened by development, earning local media attention, and as a peace activist who worked to improve relations with Muslims.
The Ashland house where the chapter was based was sold in May 2006 at the direction of the Treasury Department.
The Treasury Department said the Oregon chapter of Al-Haramain was designated as a group suspected of supporting terrorism because a federal investigation showed "direct links between the U.S. branch and Osama bin Laden."
Earlier this month, Nelson filed a federal lawsuit in Portland seeking to remove the chapter from the government list.
The lawsuit noted the Treasury Department's allegation about links to al-Qaida came in a press release, and said the department has never provided the Oregon chapter with any information it used for the designation in order to rebut it, or responded to requests for reconsideration.
The Oregon chapter of Al-Haramain was charged in the same February 2005 federal grand jury indictment as Sedaghaty and al-Buthi. Sedaghaty was listed as the secretary of the chapter and al-Buthi as its treasurer.
The indictment said that "zakat," the requirement that all Muslims donate to charity to help the poor and needy, "has been diverted by Islamic charitable foundations" to assist in "violent jihad," or holy war.
A federal judge in September 2005 dismissed the charges against the foundation at the request of the U.S. Attorney's office in Oregon after federal prosecutors argued it was a waste of time because the foundation chapter was nothing but a corporate shell.
Prosecutors, however, reserved the right to refile the charges against the foundation.
The chapter is at the center of a federal lawsuit challenging the Bush administration warrantless eavesdropping program.
That case is being heard by the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco.
Sedaghaty established the Oregon chapter of the charity in 1997 with support from the Saudi foundation. He distributed Islamic literature to prisoners and operated the chapter as a prayer house.
But a former worker at the Ashland chapter who wrote a book about his experience has said the chapter promoted Islamic radicalism with its literature.
Both Sedaghaty and Al-Buthi, in newspaper interviews, have denied those claims by Daveed Gartenstein-Ross in his book, "My Year Inside Radical Islam."
Seda returning to U.S.