EUGENE, Ore. – A former Russian counterterrorism agent testified Tuesday that an Islamic charity that once had its U.S. headquarters in Oregon was financing Islamic fighters battling the Russian Army in the breakaway republic of Chechnya.
However, under cross-examination, Col. Sergey Ignatchenko acknowledged that the names he had of Al-Haramain Islamic Foundation officials tied to terrorism did not include defendant Pete Seda, also known as Pirouz Sedaghaty.
"I never knew about him, I never heard about him," he said.
Ignatchenko, now head of communications for the Russian Federal Security Service, testified via live video feed from former KGB headquarters in Moscow as a prosecution witness in the U.S. District Court sentencing of Seda. His remarks were interpreted by a translator in court.
Ignatchenko testified that his agency had information that Al-Haramain financed a terrorist training camp in Chechnya and was in contact with the leaders of Muslim fighters but did not know the specific source of the funds.
"We didn't know which country it came from," he said.
Judge Michael Hogan postponed sentencing, saying he needed a couple weeks to prepare a written response to legal issues, particularly whether to apply the so-called terrorism enhancement that would give Seda the maximum eight years in prison for his convictions for tax fraud and conspiracy.
A former Ashland, Ore., peace activist and tree surgeon, Seda is an Iranian-born, naturalized U.S. citizen and a co-founder of Al-Haramain Islamic Foundation in the U.S.
He was convicted last month of tax fraud and conspiracy for helping another official of Al-Haramain smuggle $150,000 out of the U.S. to Saudi Arabia in 2000. The tax fraud charge refers to efforts to cover up the trail of the money.
Though Seda has never been charged with terrorism, prosecutors are seeking the maximum sentence of eight years in prison by offering evidence that Seda intended the money to support guerrillas fighting against a country with which the United State was at peace.
Defense lawyers contend he should be freed on probation, having already served enough time in jail awaiting trial and since his conviction. They also argued that Ignatchenko's testimony was irrelevant because there was never any evidence at trial that Seda knew the money would go to terrorists, and unreliable because Ignatchenko has not produced hard evidence for his claims.
Ignatchenko testified that while he ran counterterrorism activities in Chechnya between 1997 and 2000, his agency found evidence tying Al-Haramain to Islamic fighters in Chechnya. It included pay vouchers taken from the computers of mujahedeen leaders, and a recording of a telephone conversation in which an unnamed Chechan told the head of Al-Haramain about an impending attack on Russian forces.
Under cross-examination, Ignatchenko said the actual tape of that conversation had been destroyed as part of a Russian policy of destroying recordings after five years.
In a personal appeal to the judge, Seda said he has worked all his life to promote peace, understanding and mercy.
"I rejected terrorism all my life and it is not compatible to my belief," Seda said. "Islam is a religion of justice, peace and forgiveness. Terrorism is and always has been rejected by me and my faith."
Seda's wife, Summer Rife, said the picture of her husband painted by prosecutors as a man who espoused peace on one hand and promoted terrorism on the other was completely false.
"Pete does not have a dark side," she said. "He is not someone that anyone in this room need be afraid of, and he isn't anyone that we need to be protected from."