By Dan Eggen
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, January 17, 2008
A former Republican congressman from Michigan who has dedicated himself to building ties between Christians and Muslims was indicted in federal court yesterday for alleged ties to an Islamic charity that sent money to suspected terrorists.
Mark D. Siljander, who served more than two terms in the House in the 1980s and later ran as a Republican candidate for the House from Northern Virginia, was charged with money laundering, obstruction of justice and conspiracy.
The indictment alleges that he lied to the FBI about his work on behalf of the Islamic American Relief Agency, which the Treasury Department designated as a terrorist organization in 2004.
The case appears to be unique in accusing a former member of Congress of conspiring with a designated terrorist group, said Justice Department officials and national security experts. The allegations also are unusual because they involve a former politician with strong Christian support who is charged for his connections to alleged Islamic militants.
After his first House election in 1981, Siljander said he thought he won because he often wore a "Jesus First" button and because "God wanted me in."
Siljander, 56, is founder and chairman of Global Strategies in Great Falls, a public relations and marketing firm, and is slated to publish a book in June focused on bridging the divide between Christians and Muslims.
The charity, which was based in Columbia, Mo., allegedly paid Siljander $50,000 in March 2004 to lobby the Senate Finance Committee in an attempt to be kept off a list of terrorist organizations. Senate records indicate that Siljander has not been registered as a lobbyist since 1998.
According to the indictment, the money was stolen from the U.S. Agency for International Development, and Siljander lied to federal agents about his role.
His attorney, James R. Hobbs of Kansas City, Mo., said in a statement yesterday that his client "denies the allegations in the indictment and will enter a not-guilty plea."
Siljander "is internationally recognized for his good faith attempts to bridge the gap between Christian and Muslim communities worldwide" and was never involved "in any prohibited financial transactions with any U.S.-designated terrorist," Hobbs said.
But Kenneth L. Wainstein, the assistant attorney general for national security, said in a statement that the "indictment paints a troubling picture of an American charity organization that engaged in transactions for the benefit of terrorists and conspired with a former United States Congressman."
The allegations against Siljander are part of a 42-count indictment handed up by a federal grand jury in Kansas City, which has been conducting an investigation of the charity. It closed in October 2004 when it was added to the designated terrorist list.
The group and five of its officers have been charged with an array of terrorist-financing crimes, including allegations that the group sent $130,000 to Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, an Afghan warlord with ties to al-Qaeda and the Taliban. Hekmatyar, who was loosely allied with the United States in the 1980s during efforts to expel Soviet forces from Afghanistan, is accused by the Justice Department of vowing "to engage in a holy war" against U.S. and international troops there.
Siljander's role in the case is more limited. He is not charged with a terrorism crime. Instead, the indictment alleges, Siljander worked with the group's leaders to conceal the source of stolen international aid money, which was transferred to accounts he controlled.
He initially denied doing any advocacy work for the charity, telling the FBI that the funds he received from the group were "donations" to help him write a book, according to the indictment. The book, "A Deadly Misunderstanding: A Congressman's Quest to Bridge the Muslim-Christian Divide," is scheduled for publication by HarperOne.
The six counts against Siljander each carry potential sentences of as much as 20 years in prison, officials said.
Siljander left the House after losing to a fellow Republican in 1986. He attempted to return as a candidate for Virginia's 11th District in 1992, telling supporters in the Reston area that "the image of Congress is lower than street prostitutes and street peddlers" and that "we are slowly losing morality" in Congress. He was soundly defeated in the GOP primary.
President Ronald Reagan appointed Siljander as a United Nations delegate for one year after his departure from Congress. Siljander also notes on his company's Web site that his immigrant grandfather "invented the mechanical pencil," although many experts credit others with that achievement.
Staff writer Jeffrey H. Birnbaum contributed to this report.