Islamic charity co-founder in US convicted on tax charge

Seda was accused of helping smuggle $150,000 to Muslim fighters in Chechnya.

Eugene: A federal jury convicted the co-founder of an Islamic charity chapter who was accused of helping smuggle USD 150,000 to Muslim fighters in Chechnya.

Pete Seda was yesterday 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 Mr Seda and his family," said defence attorney Steven Wax. "We do not believe that it reflects the truth of the charges. We will be pursuing a just result of this case to the highest court in the land, if need be. This fight is not yet over."

Judge Michael Hogan set sentencing for November 23. 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 Islamic Foundation in Ashland, Oregon The foundation has been declared a terrorist organisation by the US government.

The tax-fraud conviction was the government`s first significant victory in its prosecution of Al-Haramain, which it began investigating shortly after the September 11, 2001, terrorism attacks. A federal judge ruled in another case involving the charity that the government`s programme of wiretapping suspected terrorists without getting permission from a judge was illegal.

Prosecutors said Seda had a more sinister purpose, arguing throughout the week-long trial that he was a Muslim radical posing as a moderate promoting peace. They alleged he was trying to smuggle the money to help fighters overthrow the Chechnyan government.

The jury returned the verdict after nearly 13 hours of deliberation. A groan passed through the courtroom as Seda`s family slumped down on the benches. Seda, wearing a purple polo shirt with his beard neatly trimmed, turned and smiled at his family.

Assistant US attorneys Charles Gorder Jr and Chris Cardani told the jury that Al-Haramain distributed the Quran to US prison inmates. They said non-Muslims were issued a regular Quran while Muslim prisoners got an edition with an appendix calling for violence against Jews and non-believers, a version they called the "Noble Quran".

Part of Seda`s crime occurred when the charity`s co-founder, Soliman Al-Buthe, left the country with a donation of about USD 130,000, converted to traveller`s checks, without declaring the amount. Seda also failed to note the donation on the charity`s tax forms.