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Former Taliban Spy for U.S. Pleads Guilty to Fraud

The regime's onetime U.N. mouthpiece faces as much as eight months in a federal prison.

June 18, 2005|Stephen Braun | Times Staff Writer

WASHINGTON — An Afghan immigrant who acted as an FBI informant while he was the Taliban's second-highest ranking diplomat in the U.S. pleaded guilty on Friday to federal fraud charges.

Noorullah Zadran, 53, a naturalized U.S. citizen, admitted in a New York courtroom to not fully reporting his income tax and to lying on a home mortgage application. The plea agreement allows Zadran to avoid three other tax charges. He will face a recommended prison sentence of two to eight months when he is sentenced in September.

The details of the deal were not disclosed by either side. But defense lawyer Jared J. Scharf said after the court hearing that "the agreement does not require Mr. Zadran to cooperate with the government." Scharf said Zadran had "been in negotiations for several weeks" with federal authorities. "We have not discussed cooperation," he added.

Before being charged in October with tax and bank fraud, Zadran was the focus of a two-year federal grand jury investigation into his work as first secretary of the Taliban's now-shuttered diplomatic mission to the United Nations.

While he acted as the Taliban's media voice and participated in meetings with U.S. diplomats and other U.N. envoys from 1998 to 2001, Zadran was informing against the militant Afghan leadership -- working for the FBI under a previous plea bargain disclosed by the Los Angeles Times last month.

Under terms of the 1995 agreement in a federal smuggling case, Zadran met regularly with FBI agents and was obligated to provide information on "terrorist activity" and on the Taliban's now-exiled leadership until November 2001.

But four months after the Sept. 11 attacks, Zadran's name appeared on federal terrorism watch lists. Federal agents investigating possible U.S. connections to the plot seized Taliban materials from Zadran's Long Island home and examined his computer.

During a 25-minute hearing Friday morning in U.S. District Court in Manhattan, Zadran never mentioned the Taliban by name, referring to his former superiors as the "Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan."

In brief comments to federal Magistrate Judge Michael H. Dollinger, Zadran admitted that he had failed to report $1,541 on his 2000 federal income tax return. He also acknowledged that he had falsely claimed on a 2001 home mortgage application that his wife worked at the Taliban mission.

Assistant U.S. Atty. Stephen Miller declined to elaborate on the charges against Zadran or on the former diplomat's past. But he did raise the possibility that prosecutors might require Zadran to pay restitution to the bank for the underpayments of interest.

Outside the courtroom, according to Associated Press, Scharf described the prosecution as a "nothing case." He later explained that the "agreed tax loss in this case is between $5,000 and $8,000." Zadran, he said, already had repaid the mortgage loan.

Zadran's double life as a Taliban envoy and federal informant did not come up during the hearing. Scharf said afterward, "As to the political atmosphere contributing to the charges against him, we know nothing about that."

Zadran, now a real estate agent on Long Island, did not discuss the case when he left the courtroom and did not return a telephone call seeking comment.

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