Mosque Suit Says Manager Embezzled $300,000

The Saudi government financially supports the Islamic Center, whose board is made up of ambassadors from Islamic nations to the United States.
The Saudi government financially supports the Islamic Center, whose board is made up of ambassadors from Islamic nations to the United States. (By Sarah L. Voisin -- The Washington Post)
By Jerry Markon and Michelle Boorstein
Washington Post Staff Writers
Thursday, October 12, 2006

A prominent Washington mosque has sued its longtime business manager, accusing him of embezzling more than $300,000 and diverting the money to companies he owned or controlled.

The Islamic Center of Washington, D.C., says in the lawsuit that Farzad Darui altered the names of payees on checks intended for legitimate vendors, primarily insurance companies, and substituted his own companies. It says the scheme began around 2000 and continued it until he was suspended last month.

"The actions taken by Mr. Darui constitute fraud . . . unjust enrichment and breach of fiduciary duties," says the lawsuit, filed Sept. 15 in U.S. District Court in Alexandria.

Reached yesterday at Zaal Inc., a Falls Church real estate management company of which he is president, Darui declined to comment on the suit. His attorney, Victoria Toensing, said only that the allegations "are false and we will defend them vigorously."

Darui has not yet responded in court. He framed the issue as a management dispute in yesterday's Washington Times, which first reported the lawsuit. "This, from my point of view, is about me opposing a Saudi takeover of the center," he told the Times. "They've been trying to unilaterally appoint a new Saudi director without going through the board."

The Islamic Center, on Massachusetts Avenue NW, is Washington's first mosque, opening in 1957, according to court documents and its Web site. It's a regular place of worship for thousands of Muslims, according to court documents.

The center is supported financially by the Saudi government, and the Web site lists the current chairman of its board of governors as Saudi Prince Bandar bin Sultan, who recently stepped down as ambassador to the United States. The center's governing board is largely made up of ambassadors from various Islamic nations to the United States. Calls to the center and to Saudi Embassy were not returned yesterday.

It was unclear yesterday why the allegations were contained in a civil suit and whether a criminal investigation is underway. An attorney for the center, from the D.C. firm of Williams & Connolly LLC, declined to comment.

Darui, of Falls Church, has worked at the center since at least 1984, when he was head of security, according to the lawsuit. He became responsible for the center's bookkeeping after accusing the existing bookkeeper of being involved in a scheme to defraud the organization, the suit says.

As bookkeeper, Darui routinely presented checks to be signed by the center's director, Abdullah M. Khouj. After Khouj signed the checks, Darui was responsible for mailing them to vendors, the lawsuit says.

Khouj began unraveling the scheme when he repeatedly asked Darui to commission an independent audit of the center's finances, but Darui kept putting him off, the lawsuit says. According to the suit, Khouj then discovered that Darui had been changing the names of payees to BLT Services Corp. According to the lawsuit, that is really Blue Line Travel Inc., "a company owned and/or controlled by Mr. Darui."

"Mr. Darui breached his fiduciary duties intentionally, willfully, with malice, and with ill will toward the Islamic Center," says the lawsuit, which is seeking a jury trial but does not specify damages sought.

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