Journalism in the Public Interest

Two Year Sentence for Man Accused in Pakistan Spy Plot

Kashmiri-American Syed Ghulam Nabi Fai allegedly used at least $3.5 million from the ISI to try to influence U.S. policy on Kashmir.


Syed Ghulam Nabi Fai, 62, at his home in Fairfax, Va, in this file photo taken while he was under house arrest. (Habiba Nosheen for ProPublica)

A Kashmiri-American accused of funneling money from Pakistan’s main spy agency to American politicians in a scheme to influence U.S. policy on Kashmir was sentenced to two years in federal prison Friday.

Syed Ghulam Nabi Fai, 62, of Fairfax, Va., had pleaded guilty in December to conspiracy and tax violations in connection with moving at least $3.5 million from Pakistan’s government and the Inter-Services Intelligence Directorate, or ISI, mostly through his charity, the Kashmiri American Council. For more than 20 years, the charity had been the highest profile Kashmiri nonprofit in the U.S. As its leader, Fai had taken his case to top U.S. officials, rubbing shoulders with people like Bill Clinton and Bob Dole.

Although Fai had publicly called for “self-determination” for the Indian side of Kashmir, the FBI insisted that he was privately working on behalf of Pakistan. Kashmir is the disputed Himalayan territory that has sparked two of the three wars between India and Pakistan and almost led to a fourth.

The sentencing capped a bizarre case, replete with twists and turns, including the death of Fai’s co-defendant in Pakistan. According to the FBI, dozens of emails between Fai and his handlers featured code words, such as “Brylcreem” for money, and “the library in Islamabad” for an ISI office.

Fai was initially charged with failing to register as a foreign agent in July, at the height of tensions between the U.S. and Pakistan. An FBI affidavit laid out how Fai had allegedly been a tool of the ISI and how he used Pakistan’s money to try to influence U.S. politicians, whether through campaign contributions or by hosting conferences.

It’s not clear where the ISI’s millions went. According to campaign finance records, Fai had given $28,165 to federal candidates and political parties since 1990, including $10,290 to Rep. Dan Burton, the Republican from Indiana. Others connected to Fai, his co-defendant and the Kashmiri American Council’s board donated at least $93,000. There’s no indication that either Fai’s board members or the politicians knew where Fai got his money.

In October, ProPublica documented Fai’s improbable rise from a poor villager in Indian Kashmir to Washington insider. Fai, who emigrated to the U.S. for graduate school in the 1980s, is one of the only people in recent history to be criminally charged with failing to register as a foreign agent.

The plea agreement reached in December did not mention that charge, and Fai never admitted to operating as an unregistered agent. Fai’s alleged accomplice, Zaheer Ahmad, a Pakistani-American doctor who ran one of the nicest hospitals in Pakistan, died in early October after apparently suffering a stroke in Islamabad.

The two men were accused of mounting an elaborate plot: Ahmad was accused of funneling money from the ISI to 13 straw donors, mostly Pakistani-American doctors and businessmen, who then gave the money to the Kashmiri American Council, claiming tax deductions. Ahmad then allegedly reimbursed the straw donors.

As part of his plea agreement, Fai admitted making false statements to U.S. officials about his ties to Pakistan’s government and that the Internal Revenue Service had lost as much as $400,000 in his scheme.

Fai had faced a maximum of eight years in prison. In filings with the U.S. District Court in Alexandria, Va., Fai’s lawyer argued that the seriousness of his offenses was mitigated by “the unspeakable suffering of the Kashmiri people that motivated his crimes, as well as his demonstrated remorse.”

U.S. prosecutors had asked for Fai to be sentenced to four years in prison, saying that he showed no remorse. “The opposite is true,” argued Gordon Kromberg, the assistant U.S. attorney on the case, in filings with the court. He said Fai was only sorry for the damage he had caused to the Kashmiri movement by linking his group with the ISI.

Fai had sent a seven-page, single-spaced letter to the court, outlining the history of Kashmir but mentioning nothing about his dealings with the ISI.

“In fact, nowhere is the ISI even mentioned,” Kromberg wrote, outlining the U.S. position. “Nowhere is any mention of a single lie that Fai made to the American people and Government in the course of innumerable lies over a period of decades.”

John Swidergal

March 30, 2012, 6:28 p.m.

How much funny money from foreign sources is sitting in Rove’s scandalous PAC.

It seems improbable the authorities did not know of his activities since he started . It was allowed in name of realpolitik.Now when Pakistans duplicity is in the open arena the US decides to prosecute him.

There’s no such thing as a “Kashmiri American”, since Kashmir is neither a country nor an ethnicity. Kashmir is an Indian state and has been since the British Raj ended in 1947. Since then, parts of Kashmir have been annexed by Pakistan and China, due to its strategic location at the foothills of the Himalayas and its abundant natural resources.

In the past, Kashmir used to be a fairly diverse state with Hindus, Muslims and Christians living side by side. After Pakistan annexed part of the state, the native Muslims have been manipulated by Pakistan to implement a pogrom to drive the Hindus away.

Based on this article, it’s evident that Pakistan wants to scale up their efforts to undermine India by influencing American policy, in addition to fomenting unrest in the region by sponsoring proxy terrorism.

Reforms to modify the American political system to prevent influence peddling by foreign nations are way overdue. It’s time our politicians started representing our interests, not some other nations….

It amazes me that, while we’re still trying to figure out how to occupy Afghanistan, we’ve been booted from Iraq, and are now doing everything we can to make Iran look dangerous, we completely ignore the countries actively doing us harm.

Pakistan is spying on us.  It’s trying to illegally influence our government.  It’s housing terrorists.  But they’re our allies, while we bomb Afghanistan some more.

Syria is attacking its civilian population.  It’s implementing oppressive restrictions on freedom of expression.  Its government intentionally murdered an American citizen.  We do nothing except ratchet up sanctions against their population, depriving them of, say, encryption software that would help them protect themselves.  Although selling the phone-tracking software to their government (that got Marie Colvin killed) is OK.

Saudi Arabia has said that they want oil to be at least ninety dollars a barrel, not because it’s related to the cost, but because they want that much of our money.  The 2001 hijackers were identified as Saudis.  We don’t have any problem with that or, say, their oppression of women.

I don’t mean to derail the discussion, and I don’t want to suggest that we should be attacking these countries.  It’s just a bizarre end of the story.  If he was Iranian, he’d be declared a terrorist, tortured, and we’d look for a pretense to invade.  But Pakistan?  No big.  It’s like the Middle Eastern countries drew lots, and the winners do what they want with our approval, while the losers are on our perpetual “axis of evil” list.

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