Former Fugitive Chief of Oregon Islamic Charity Pleads Not Guilty to Funneling Money to Chechen Militants

The fugitive former director of a defunct Islamic charity pleaded not guilty to federal conspiracy and tax fraud charges after returning voluntarily to the United States to fight the allegations.

Pirouz Sedaghaty, 49, also known as Pete Seda, a native of Iran who is a U.S. citizen, made a brief appearance before U.S. Magistrate Judge Thomas Coffin in Eugene after he was arrested at the customs checkpoint at Portland International Airport.

Sedaghaty is accused of helping to smuggle $150,000 out of the United States to aid Muslim fighters in Chechnya while he was secretary of the Al-Haramain Islamic Foundation chapter in Ashland, Ore.

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The foundation was based in Saudi Arabia, which dissolved the charity in 2004 after the U.S. Treasury Department designated it an organization that supports terrorism.

Sedaghaty has insisted his chapter of the foundation was not involved, despite its addition to the Treasury Department list in September 2004.

His attorneys declined to say Wednesday where Sedaghaty had been living the past four years. Government documents allege the U.S. citizen moved to Dubai in 2003.

Tom Nelson, a Portland attorney who accompanied Sedaghaty on a flight from Frankfurt, Germany, said Sedaghaty was glad to return to Oregon, where he had settled after attending Southern Oregon University and establishing a career as an urban forester and arborist in Ashland.

"Pete has wanted to come home for some time, and he has wanted to clear his name," Nelson said. He called the government case against Sedaghaty is "weak" and noted that despite the tax fraud charge, "not one penny of tax money is at stake here."

Assistant U.S. Attorney Chris Cardani, who is handling the case, declined to comment.

Sedaghaty founded the Oregon chapter of Al-Haramain with a Saudi citizen, Soliman al-Buthi, who returned to Saudi Arabia in 2001.

Unlike Sedaghaty, al-Buthi has been labeled a "specially designated global terrorist" and is considered an international fugitive, although he is working as a government official in Saudi Arabia.

Nelson this month filed a federal lawsuit seeking to remove the Oregon chapter of Al-Haramain from the federal terrorism list.

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