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Islamic Charity Cleared in Perjury

Courts: Charges were dropped against Chicago group accused of lying about ties to Bin Laden.

September 14, 2002|From Associated Press

CHICAGO — A federal judge dismissed charges Friday against an Islamic charity accused of lying about its ties to Osama bin Laden, saying the perjury law didn't apply in this case.

Federal agents raided Benevolence International Foundation's suburban Chicago headquarters last December, and its bank accounts were frozen by the U.S. Treasury Department.

The charity and its executive director, Enaam Arnaout, were charged a few months later with perjury based on affidavits in a civil lawsuit in which Arnaout denied the group funds terrorism or military activity. The lawsuit was brought by Benevolence against the federal government and sought release of the group's funds.

But in her decision, U.S. District Judge Joan Gottschall said the Supreme Court has ruled the perjury law does not apply to such affidavits. She said perjury charges may have been appropriate if false statements were in a deposition.

"We respectfully disagree with the judge's ruling," U.S. Atty. Patrick Fitzgerald said in a statement. "The opinion relies on a technical interpretation of the perjury statute and has no bearing on the facts of the case."

Fitzgerald said prosecutors planned to file a new criminal complaint charging the defendants with obstruction of justice and making false statements for the same alleged conduct.

Benevolence attorney Matthew Piers said Gottschall's decision was "the product of a courageous jurist."

The 39-year-old, Syrian-born Arnaout, who has been jailed since April, acknowledges that he has met Bin Laden but has denied having anything to do with terrorism. The U.S. attorney's office said Arnaout was expected to remain in custody over the weekend.

A hearing in the case was scheduled for Monday before Gottschall.

Freezing the assets of Benevolence and another Chicago-area Islamic charity, Global Relief Foundation, were among the most visible actions of the federal government's effort to shut off the flow of dollars to terrorists.

Both groups deny they provide any support to terrorists.

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