Seda can't be directly linked to terrorism, Russian agent testifies

Updated 3 p.m.
Pete Seda will have to wait several more weeks before learning his sentence on tax fraud charges.

U.S. District Judge Michael Hogan said in court Tuesday afternoon that because of the complicated issues in the case, he will rule in writing in a few weeks.

1:30 p.m. Money Pete Seda helped smuggle from Ashland to Chechnya in 2000 likely went to fund terror crimes and a multinational terrorist training camp well-financed by the parent organization of Seda's Ashland-based Islamic charity, a Russian agent testified in Seda's sentencing hearing today.

But Col. Sergey Ignatchenko, an officer of the Russian Federal Security Service, testified today that he could not directly link the Ashland peace activist and the $150,000 smuggled through Seda's Al-Haramain Islamic Foundation chapter to terrorism.

“I never knew about him and I never heard of him,” Ignatchenko testified about Seda today in U.S. District Court.

“We didn't know exactly which country the money came from,” Ignatchenko said through an interpreter. “We couldn't monitor the flow of finances.”

Linking Seda and the smuggled money directly to terrorists is the focal point so far in today's hearing to determine whether Seda should walk away a free man or face the maximum eight years in prison for his conviction on conspiracy and tax-cheat charges.

The testimony of Ignatchenko, a former KGB agent, via satellite from Moscow goes to the heart of the government's argument for a so-called “terrorism enhancement” to boost Seda's sentence for helping launder a $150,000 donation to his charity and then covering it by filing a false tax return.

Should U.S. District Judge Michael Hogan not find grounds for the enhancement, Seda could be sentenced to as little as time served so far for his September conviction.

Defense attorney Steven Wax countered that testimony from the agent of the successor to the KGB was irrelevant and unreliable for Hogan to make that terrorism distinction.

“There is absolutely no connection between anything that was said (by Ignatchenko) and Pete Seda,” Wax said in court.

Ignatchenko's testimony dominated this morning's portion of the sentencing hearing. Testimony was scheduled to continue this afternoon.

Seda, 52, also known as Pirous Sedaghaty, attended this morning's proceedings shackled and in a tunic supplied by the Lane County Jail, where he has remained since his conviction.

To apply the terrorism enhancement in sentencing, Hogan must find that Seda's crimes were calculated to influence or effect the conduct of government by intimidation or coercion.

It does not require that Seda be convicted of a federal crime of terrorism or even that the terrorism crime was committed — just that it was intended to promote the federal crime of terrorism.

Prosecutors in court papers have argued Seda was well aware of Chechen jihadists fighting Russians to form an Islamic state there when he helped Soliman Al-Buthi, a fellow Al-Haramain chapter leader, smuggle the money out of the country in violation of federal reporting laws.

Ignatchenko also testified his agents intercepted a telephone call between the head of Chechen jihadists and Aqil Aqil — the head of Al-Haramain in Saudi Arabia and a co-director of Seda's chapter — in which Aqil said Al-Haramain had $50 million to help terrorists there.

But defense attorneys have couched Seda's crimes as a “tax mistake” that was never proven to be for humanitarian aid or weapons. They maintain the prosecution has not proven what happened to the money.

Al-Buthi, Al-Haramain and Seda's Oregon chapter have all been designated by the U.S. government as supporters of terrorism. Seda has never been designated a terrorist or charged with any terrorism crimes.

— Mark Freeman

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