By Staff Writers
The Associated Press
PORTLAND, Oregon — Recent court filings in a criminal case against the operator of a defunct U.S. charity reveal that American prosecutors traveled to Russia in an attempt to find proof that the organization had been involved in terrorism in Chechnya.
In December, federal prosecutors Charles Gorder and Chris Cardani met with agents from the Federal Security Service and gave them copies of computer hard drives from Al Haramain Islamic Foundation Inc., The Oregonian newspaper reported.
The Federal Security Service, in turn, was looking for information about Russian soldiers killed in Chechnya, the report said.
Pete Seda, who founded the American arm of the huge Saudi Islamic charity 10 years ago, is charged with conspiracy and tax fraud, accused of diverting money for foreign guerrilla fighters in Chechnya.
His lawyers said prosecutors had no business giving the Russians the data. They argued in court records that the move was an "outrageous intrusion" into Seda's privacy and asked a judge to bar the government from using the computers as evidence.
Gorder and Cardani, assistant U.S. attorneys, said in the new filings that the arrangement was legal under international treaty.
They said the Russians shared with them information that Al Haramain had smuggled money into Chechnya for a mujahedin training camp.
"The money from this so-called charity was used 'to purchase weapons, uniforms, medicine, communication devices, vehicles, and to pay religious extremists' salaries,'" the prosecutors said in their filing, The Oregonian reported.
They also said the Russians turned over intercepted communications between the leader of foreign Islamic fighters in Chechnya and Aqeel Abdul Aziz al-Aqil, once president of both the Saudi and Oregon charities.
Gorder and Cardani said Russia might "account for its own soldiers" through the identity papers and photos of Russian soldiers found on computers in Oregon. The soldiers were captured or killed in Chechnya.
Prosecutors also gave the Russians evidence that "one of defendant Sedaghaty's so-called Islamic wives" used Al Haramain computers in Oregon to translate material into Russian. Her translations appeared on Qoqaz.net, a web site supporting jihad in Chechnya, prosecutors said.
Seda was born in Iran as Pirouz Sedaghaty.
A judge has yet to rule on the competing claims. The prosecutors declined to comment on recent events, as did Seda's lawyers, federal defender Steve Wax and Portland lawyer Larry Matasar.
Seda, 51, and three Saudis formed Al Haramain, which distributed religious material to U.S. prisons and operated a prayer house before falling under suspicion of federal terrorism investigators.
Seda returned to Oregon in 2007 to deny tax and conspiracy charges. He has consistently maintained that he opposed terrorist acts and worked instead to promote interfaith peace.
He was freed pending his trial, which was set for next month but has been postponed, in part because Seda wants time to consider the new Russian information.
October 13, 2009 — Return to cover.