Siljander pleads guilty in Islamic American Relief Agency lobbying case
Thursday, July 8, 2010
A former congressman pleaded guilty Wednesday to serving as an unregistered agent in Washington for a Missouri-based Islamic charity that the federal government said had ties to international terrorism.
It was an odd outcome for Mark D. Siljander, who said he wanted to help bridge the gulf between Muslims and Christians. A Republican who attained one of Michigan's congressional seats from 1981 to 1987 with assistance from the Moral Majority, Siljander was outspoken about conservative social issues.
Siljander confirmed in a Kansas City, Mo., court that he contacted members of Congress in an effort to lift restrictions on the charity and then lied about his work in statements to investigators. He could face a 15-year prison term and a $500,000 fine, according to a Justice Department statement.
Siljander attorney Lance Sandage said in a statement that his client "has accepted responsibility for his conduct in his pleas to an obstruction of justice charge and a violation of a regulatory statute."
"We would point out that all other charges of conspiracy and money laundering against him will be dismissed and of course no terrorism charges were alleged," Sandage said.
The charity in question, the Islamic American Relief Agency, was raided and shuttered by the government in 2004 after extensive wiretaps of its officers. In a 2008 indictment, the charity was charged with improperly sending funds to Pakistan on behalf of Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, who had received millions from the CIA and was briefly Afghanistan's foreign minister. He later formed an alliance with the Taliban and Osama bin Laden that led the United States to try to kill him with a drone missile.
On June 25, charity director Mubarak Hamed pleaded guilty instead to sending more than $1 million to Iraq while that country was under U.S. sanctions, before the 2003 U.S. occupation. Hamed also confirmed for the first time that the charity was allied with a group in Sudan that the government said had provided funds to al-Qaeda, bin Laden and the Taliban.
Siljander's legal fate may have been sealed when Hamed, in his court plea, contested the former lawmaker's claim that the charity had paid him $75,000 not as a lobbying fee but to help underwrite a 2008 book, "A Deadly Misunderstanding: A Congressman's Quest to Bridge the Muslim-Christian Divide."
The Justice Department has said the funds paid to Siljander were stolen by the charity from a U.S. Agency for International Development grant intended to finance work in Mali. The department said that a fundraiser for the group, Abdel Azim El-Siddiq of Chicago, admitted to having joined with Hamed to hire Siljander as a lobbyist while deliberately concealing the payments. The money was funneled through nonprofit entities controlled by Siljander, it said.
In response, Siljander "acted as an agent" of the charity in contacts during 2004 with the Senate Finance Committee, USAID, the Justice Department and the Army. He sought unsuccessfully to have the charity removed from a list of organizations suspected of financing terrorism, the Justice Department said.
Siljander, a resident of Great Falls, was known among social conservatives as the author of a law barring USAID from spending any money to lobby for abortion.