WASHINGTON (AP) — For years, the Pakistani spy agency funneled millions of dollars to a Washington non-profit group in a secret effort to influence Congress and the White House, the Justice Department said Tuesday in court documents that are certain to complicate already strained relations between the U.S. and Pakistan.
FBI agents arrested Syed Ghulam Nabi Fai, the executive director of the Kashmiri American Council, on Tuesday morning and charged him with being an unregistered agent of a foreign government. Under the supervision of a senior member of Pakistan's spy agency, Inter-Services Intelligence, Fai worked to influence Congress and develop contacts at the White House and State Department, prosecutors said.
"I believe that Fai has received approximately $500,000 to $700,000 per year from the government of Pakistan," FBI agent Sarah Webb Linden said in documents filed at the federal court in Alexandria, Va.
The Pakistani Embassy in Washington quickly denied any knowledge of such an arrangement.
A second man, Zaheer Ahmad, was also charged. Prosecutors said he recruited people to act as straw donors who would give money that really was coming from the Pakistani government. Ahmad is not under arrest and is in Pakistan, prosecutors said. Both men are U.S. citizens.
A soft-spoken man, Fai is a leading voice in the debate over the future of Kashmir, the mountainous border area that India and Pakistan have fought over for years. He supports the pro-Pakistan viewpoint that Kashmiris should vote on whether to be part of Pakistan or India. India claims the territory as its own.
Prosecutors said the Kashmiri American Council was being run in secret by the Pakistani government. Government officials reviewed Fai's budget and directed him to make campaign donations to Congress, meet with lawmakers and attend political events. The group's phone rang unanswered and a doorman said Tuesday that nobody from the organization had arrived at the office building, a few blocks from the White House in the heart of Washington's lobbying district.
Israr Mirza, the former president of the Pakistani Student Association at George Mason University, recalled hearing Fai speak at a February event his organization hosted on India-Pakistan relations.
"I don't see him as a spy or anything. He's an old gentleman," said Mirza, who has since graduated from George Mason. "He seemed like a very collected guy. He was speaking just to promote peace."
Though the charges are not related to espionage, the arrest adds new strain to the already difficult relationship between the U.S. and Pakistan, which suffered after the U.S. found Osama bin Laden hiding inside Pakistan and killed him without telling the government there.
The Pakistani spy agency, the Inter-Services Intelligence, has a complicated relationship with U.S. intelligence. The agency is a crucial ally in the war on terrorism but also works against the U.S. at times, including running double agents against the CIA.
"Dr. Fai and the Kashmiri freedom movement have nothing to do with the ISI," said Nadim Malik, a close associate of Fai and the executive director of the advocacy group Kashmir Mission USA.
Fai has donated to congressional campaigns of both parties for years. His donations include $250 to President Barack Obama in 2008; a total of $4,500 to the National Republican Senatorial Committee in 2004 and 2008; and $250 to the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee in 2009. Prosecutors said none of the recipients knew the organization was a front for money from Pakistan.
Associated Press writer Eric Tucker and Kimberly Dozier in Washington and Matthew Barakat in Alexandria, Va. contributed to this report. Khan reported from Islamabad, Pakistan.
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