Trial begins in Islamic charity tax case

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The prosecution said Monday the founder of the U.S. branch of an Islamic charity accused of trying to smuggle $150,000 to Muslim fighters in Chechnya took extreme steps to leave no paper trail.

But the defense countered tax-form mistakes key to the prosecution’s case were made by the charity’s accountant, not the defendant.

Pete Seda, also known as Pirouz Sedaghaty, is in U.S. District Court on charges of conspiracy, tax fraud and failing to report sending $150,000 out of the country. He has pleaded not guilty, contending the money was for refugees, not Muslim fighters trying to overthrow the government of Chechnya.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Chris Cardani told jurors in opening statements that Seda, an Iranian immigrant and naturalized U.S. citizen, became the boss of the U.S. chapter of Al-Haramain Islamic Foundation Inc., a charity based in Saudi Arabia. Cardani said the foundation was based on a radical form of Islam that distributed Qurans calling for holy war, and was dedicated to helping Muslim fighters battling the Russian Army in Chechnya.

“One of the things you can’t do if you are a charity in the United States is fund acts of violence,” Cardani said. “The government is not accusing Mrs. Sedaghaty of being a terrorist.”

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This post was last updated: Nov. 21, 2013