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Former Islamic charity director denies guilt

August 16, 2007|From the Associated Press

PORTLAND, ORE. — The fugitive former director of a defunct Islamic charity pleaded not guilty to federal conspiracy and tax fraud charges after he voluntarily returned to the United States on Wednesday to face the charges more than two years after they were filed.

Pirouz Sedaghaty, 49, also known as Pete Seda, a native of Iran who is a U.S. citizen, made a brief appearance before U.S. Magistrate Judge Thomas Coffin in Eugene, Ore., after he was arrested at the customs checkpoint at Portland International Airport.

Sedaghaty is accused of helping to smuggle $150,000 out of the United States to aid Muslim fighters in Chechnya while he was secretary of the Al Haramain Islamic Foundation chapter in Ashland, Ore.

The foundation was based in Saudi Arabia, which dissolved the charity in 2004 after the U.S. Treasury Department designated it an organization that supported terrorism.

Sedaghaty has insisted his chapter of the foundation was not involved, despite its addition to the Treasury Department list in September 2004.

An Internal Revenue Service affidavit filed to support a search warrant for the chapter office in Ashland in February 2004 said Sedaghaty, a U.S. citizen who attended Southern Oregon University in Ashland, had moved to Dubai in 2003.

But his attorneys declined to say Wednesday where Sedaghaty had been living.

Tom Nelson, a Portland attorney who accompanied Sedaghaty on a flight from Frankfurt, Germany, said Sedaghaty was glad to return to Oregon, where he had settled after college and established a career as an urban forester and arborist in Ashland.

Assistant U.S. Atty. Chris Cardani, who is handling the case, declined to comment.

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