LOS ANGELES – An Iraqi-born American citizen was acquitted Friday of being an informant for Saddam Hussein, but convicted of immigration violations.
William Shaoul Benjamin, 67, of Los Angeles was acquitted on two counts of conspiracy and failing to register as an agent of a foreign government, his attorney James Blatt said.
Benjamin was found guilty of two lesser charges of giving false information during the naturalization process. He is scheduled to be sentenced on April 14 when he could lose his U.S. citizenship. He had faced up to 20 years in prison if convicted on all four counts.
Following the verdict, Benjamin said he was pleased with the outcome.
"I'm really, very happy that the jury looked at all the evidence," he said in a phone interview.
Prosecutors contended that Benjamin was a paid informant for the Iraqi Intelligence Service, the foreign intelligence arm of the Iraqi government, after coming to the U.S. in 1992. They believe Benjamin turned on his fellow Assyrian Christians, a minority group in Iraq perceived to be hostile to Saddam, by monitoring their activities while living here.
Benjamin was accused of first working for the IIS while in Iraq and then serving as a paid informant between 1993 and 2001. Prosecutors said Benjamin was give the code name "9211" and he traveled to Iraq to train with intelligence officers.
As compensation, Benjamin allegedly received separate payments of $2,000, $2,500 and $4,000 between 1994 and 1996 as well as two bottles of whiskey from IIS officers.
Prosecutors relied on the testimony of a former Iraqi intelligence officer who identified Iraqi documents that bore Benjamin's name. However, they never revealed why Benjamin would work for Saddam, what information was provided to the IIS and whether any of it was useful.
"We have always contended that he was never an Iraqi spy, that he was never an Iraqi agent, and we were able to prove this to a jury," Blatt said.
Benjamin took the stand during the two-week trial, admitting he bribed Iraqi customs and immigration officials as he entered the country so he could visit his daughter.
Hearing the government's portrayal of his alleged activities was "very painful for me," Benjamin said Friday.