Correction to This Article
In some editions, the article incorrectly said that each of the charges against him is punishable by up to 20 years in prison. The Washington lobbyist is charged with violating U.S. economic sanctions against Sudan's government, acting as an unregistered agent of a foreign power, money laundering, passport fraud and making false statements., but only the sanctions-related charges carry that possible term.

Lobbyist charged with violating U.S. economic sanctions against Sudan

By Dan Eggen
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, October 28, 2009

A Washington lobbyist is charged with violating U.S. economic sanctions against the outlaw regime in Sudan and using multiple passports, an offshore bank account and other tactics to hide his activities, according to a federal indictment unsealed Tuesday.

Robert J. Cabelly, 61, was registered as a foreign agent for Sudan from August 2005 to February 2006, when he dropped formal ties amid a public outcry. The indictment alleges that Cabelly, a State Department official in the 1980s and 1990s, engaged in prohibited commercial activities before, during and after the time he was registered to work for Sudan.

The indictment says Cabelly entered into illegal contracts with the Sudanese oil industry; acted as an intermediary between Sudan and a French oil company; and provided sensitive information to Khartoum about the U.S. government. Cabelly also instructed the unidentified French oil company to deposit $180,000 into an account on the Cook Islands, and concealed his travel to Sudan by scheduling out-of-the-way itineraries and using two different U.S. passports bearing his name, the indictment says.

Cabelly pleaded not guilty to the charges Tuesday afternoon and was released after he offered his Capitol Hill home as collateral. U.S. Magistrate Judge Deborah Robinson ordered Cabelly to stay in the Washington area and to check in each week with pretrial officials; a status hearing is scheduled for Nov. 6.

"Those who pursue their own personal gain at the expense of our nation's trade embargoes can expect to be aggressively prosecuted," Channing Phillips, the acting U.S. attorney for the District, said in a statement. "Our national security depends on strict enforcement of U.S. export laws such as the Sudanese sanctions regulations."

Cabelly's attorney, Aitan Goelman, said his client is "innocent of any crime and looks forward to vindicating himself in court."

The Cabelly indictment comes amid renewed Washington debate over Sudan, which has sought help from well-connected lobbyists to ease sanctions and fight international war-crimes charges levied against Sudanese President Omar Hassan al-Bashir. President Obama formally renewed sanctions against Sudan on Tuesday, following his decision this month to keep pressure on Khartoum while offering incentives to end violence in Darfur.

Sudanese officials helped arrange a $1.3 million contract earlier this year between the government of Qatar and former Reagan administration aide Robert C. "Bud" McFarlane, who later met with two of the Obama administration's top policymakers on Sudan, according to documents obtained by The Washington Post. In addition, a lobbyist close to Sen. John F. Kerry (D-Mass.) attempted to get Obama administration approval to represent Sudan but dropped the effort after The Post publicized the plans.

Sudan has been under a comprehensive trade embargo since the Clinton administration, and the measures were ratcheted up in the wake of government-backed massacres in the western Darfur region that have been labeled an ongoing genocide by the United States. Sudan, which once gave refuge to al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden, has also been listed as a state sponsor of terrorism since 1993.

The charges against Cabelly include four counts of violating sanctions, acting as an unregistered agent of a foreign power, money laundering, passport fraud and making false statements. Each sanctions-related charge carries a potential prison sentence of up to 20 years.

The indictment also lists three unnamed conspirators: a U.S. citizen living in Bahrain, a Middle Eastern businessman, and "an official of the Government of Sudan and a former Sudanese intelligence officer."

Cabelly was targeted for criticism by activist groups and some lawmakers after registering as a lobbyist for Sudan under a $530,000 contract in 2005. Cabelly, who worked in Africa affairs at the State Department, has also represented a number of other governments with poor human rights records, including Angola, Equatorial Guinea and Ethiopia.

Staff writer Del Quentin Wilber contributed to this report.

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