A prolific fundraiser charged with funneling illegal foreign campaign contributions to American political candidates surrendered to authorities in Los Angeles on Wednesday and was released on $3 million bond.
The court appearance came about a week after prosecutors announced charges against Imaad Zuberi, a venture capitalist who raised millions of dollars for both Democratic and Republican political candidates and committees, including former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and President Donald Trump.
Zuberi has agreed to plead guilty to tax evasion, violating campaign finance laws and concealing his work as a foreign agent as he lobbied high-level U.S. government officials. He faces up to 15 years in prison.
Zuberi's defense attorney declined to comment.
Zuberi, 49, is accused of soliciting donations from foreign nationals and companies and giving the money to several political campaigns, violating a federal law that forbids foreign contributions. He claimed he could use his influence to change foreign policy and create business opportunities for clients and himself.
Prosecutors have not alleged any campaign that received money from Zuberi was aware of his scheme or that any foreign nationals were aware of wrongdoing, and they did not identify the campaigns or foreign nationals in court papers.
But The Associated Press reported this week that a Saudi tycoon and his business associate sent hundreds of thousands of dollars through Zuberi to help pay for President Barack Obama's second inaugural celebration.
Zuberi signed a plea agreement admitting he received $850,000 from Sheikh Mohammed Al Rahbani but delivered just $97,500 of that money to the Obama inaugural committee, skimming the rest for himself.
Rahbani is not named in the plea agreement, but The AP identified him in part by matching the timing and amounts of donations mentioned in the court filing to publicly available campaign finance records.
Rahbani initially declined to comment. But his attorney sent a letter to The AP on Wednesday saying that Rahbani and his wife, Kate Rahbani, had been unwitting victims of Zuberi's crimes. The attorney, Martin Auerbach, suggested Rahbani's name had been attached to political contributions without his consent.
"They have fully cooperated with the government in its investigation of Zuberi and have not been charged with any wrongdoing,'' Auerbach wrote in the letter, referring to Rahbani and his wife.
Auerbach also said Kate Rahbani, an American citizen, made the donations to Obama's inauguration and not her husband.
That account differed from charges outlined in Zuberi's charging documents, which say the money Zuberi used to pay Obama's inaugural committee was wired to him by Mohammed Al Rahbani and an associate through a company based in Saudi Arabia and another based in Kuwait. Prosecutors also say in the court filings that Zuberi spoke with Mohammed Al Rahbani about donating additional money to the inaugural fund in exchange for appearing in a photograph with Obama at an event.
Zuberi also admitted violating the Foreign Agents Registration Act by submitting false statements in which he concealed a multi-million-dollar contract he signed in 2014 with the Sri Lankan government to help improve that country's image in the United States.
Prosecutors said he directed millions of dollars from that deal to himself and his wife for personal purposes, shortchanging lobbyists, public relations and law firms, and certain subcontractors who were part of the lobbying effort.
Prosecutors also recently charged a former college classmate and business associate of Zuberi's accused of participating in the Sri Lankan scheme. Mark Adam Skarulis was charged in September with one misdemeanor count of failing to file a tax return.
A message was sent to Skarulis' defense attorney seeking comment.
Zuberi's donations have also been separately scrutinized by federal prosecutors in New York after he gave $900,000 to Trump's inaugural committee. That donation was not part of his federal criminal case in Los Angeles.
Source: Voice of America