The case against Imaad Zuberi brings to light many troubling questions about U.S. criminal justice system and, in particular, federal prosecutorial practices. Why did violations normally handled through civil processes result in Zuberi getting a historical and underheard of 12 years prison sentence, especially considering the median sentence served for murder in the U.S. was just over 13 years in 2016. And why did the government request the harshest sentence possible for someone who reportedly provided nearly two decades of assistance to the law enforcement, national security apparatus and State Department of the United States?
On February 11, 2021, Zuberi was sentenced to a 12 years sentence after pleading guilty to one count each of tax evasion, federal election campaign act violations, failure to register as a foreign agent and obstruction of justice. But recent letters to the Senate and House Judiciary Committees tell the rest of the story. Zuberi pled guilty after being told his wife would be charged and his children would end up in adoption or foster care and he did so without the benefit of being able to consider evidence of his innocence that had been deleted by a U.S. government agency that knew about his pending criminal case. Those letters also reveal that the same division of the same U.S. Attorney’s Office that prosecuted Zuberi, gave a pass to other defendants being investigated for bribery, tax and campaign finance violations around the same time. So while the same prosecutors gave a “get out of jail free” card to three people, including a foreign Lebanese national and former Obama Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood, they argued strenuously that Zuberi’s 12 year sentence was necessary to deter campaign finance violations. And the argument worked. Notably, the court justified Zuberi’s long sentence in part because the prosecutor said he had obstructed justice by deleting emails. According to letters to the judiciary committees, the lead prosecutor knew a U.S. government agency had deleted Zuberi’s emails and had directed him to delete others to conceal his cooperation with that agency, but withheld that fact from the court. Zuberi and his defense team have found that these deleted emails include evidence of his innocence.
Zuberi has been involved in U.S. politics since his college days. Predominantly, Zuberi has been a democratic fundraiser. However, like many businessmen, he has donated to politicians in both parties. In December of 2016, Zuberi committed the ultimate sin against the Democrat party, he donated $900,000 to the Trump inauguration committee. Two months later, IRS agents showed up on Zuberi’s doorstep with Grand Jury subpoenas to investigate potential tax violations. Normally, the government doesn’t pursue tax cases like Zuberi’s criminally. Not unless it is looking for a hook to catch a bigger fish. For example, when the government had trouble building a bootlegging case against Al Capone, they went after him for Tax evasion and ultimately locked him up for 11 years. But Imaad Zuberi is no Al Capone, so why the interest in his taxes? Because the Mueller investigation’s Al Capone was newly elected President Donald Trump and they were willing to twist anyone to develop evidence against Trump. According to sources close to Mr. Zuberi’s case, prosecutors asked Zuberi to wear a wire to gather incriminating evidence against President Trump, but Zuberi refused pointing out that he was neither a Trump insider nor did he have knowledge of any criminal wrongdoing by Trump.
Contempt of Cop
According to the letters to the judiciary committees, during a meeting with the U.S. Attorney’s Office to discuss Zuberi’s potential cooperation, the lead prosecutor Dan O’Brien in the case made accusations that Zuberi’s recently deceased mother had committed campaign finance violations. The letter accounts how Zuberi responded by insulting the lead prosecutor and how, afterward, the prosecutor was no longer interested in Mr. Zuberi’s cooperation and instead was singularly focused on securing a conviction and maximizing Zuberi’s sentence.
At trial, a prosecutor has to prove a defendant’s guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. But when a person pleads guilty, the prosecutor has a much lower burden of proof with what is presented to the court for a judge to consider when handing down a sentence. According to the letters to the judiciary committee, the prosecutor not only took full advantage of this lower standard, he withheld, ignored and mischaracterized testimony, evidence and Zuberi’s past cooperation to support his desired outcome; a conviction for Zuberi with the maximum possible sentence. The evidence from newly discovered emails that had been deleted by the U.S. government show Zuberi’s innocence of alleged FARA and FECA violations and cast serious doubt on the rest of the government’s case.
Do as I say, not as I do.
In relation to the violation of the foreign agent’s registration act (FARA) count to which Zuberi pled guilty, the letters to the judiciary committees state that Zuberi has recently recovered emails showing he requested that one of his attorneys submit the proper paperwork to register for FARA. This is on top of getting legal opinions from five different lawyers that he didn’t need to register.
The most shocking revelation from the letters in relation to Zuberi’s conviction for the Sri Lanka FARA count is that several newly recovered emails show a person who worked for Zuberi, who Mr. Zuberi believes was a U.S. government agency employee at the time, was leading the activity that required FARA registration. According to the letters, despite the prosecution’s access to thousands of emails showing this U.S. government employee had control of the Sri Lanka project, the prosecution did not mention him in any court filings even though persons with minor roles in the project were referenced. Why? What was there to hide? How could the prosecution proceed with Zuberi’s guilty plea knowing a U.S. government employee was leading the project to in Sri Lanka to counter anti-U.S? This U.S. employee claimed to be from State Department but according to The Wall Street Journal the U.S. State Department doesn’t have any records of him.
What the FECA?
According to the letters to the judiciary committees, in court filings, the prosecutor made allegations of violations of the Federal Election Campaign Act (FECA) against Zuberi he knew were false and instead should have been directed at a former business associate of Zuberi’s named Husam “Sam” Juahari of Lebanese and Venezuelan citizenships.
Husam Jauhai got non prosecution agreement when he has been accused much bigger crimes of bribing U.S. military officials to get U.S. Embassy building contract, bribing Libyan officials to give him the contract to unfreeze Libyan assets after Lockerbie, hiding his income from U.S. IRS from paying taxes under his wife, sons and brothers names. The Prosecutor ignored or closed his eyes when there are witnesses against others like Jauhari and gave non prosecution agreement to not only Jauhari but others like Murat Guzel who was has been getting money from Turkish Government to donate to U.S. politicians.
Perhaps the best example described in the letters is the charge in Zuberi’s criminal information that he was responsible for three $2,700 donations by foreign individuals to the 2016 Hilary Clinton campaign. According to the letter, Zuberi recently recovered emails with documents proving Sam Jauhari was responsible for those contributions. Those documents include contribution forms for Samera Rayes, Jauhari’s wife who is a Kuwaiti citizen; Mohammed Al-Rahbani, described as a dual citizen of Saudi Arabia and the United Kingdom and the husband of Kate Shiller Al-Rahbani; and Laila Hilal, a dual Lebanese and Venezuelan citizen. The donation forms bear Jauhari’s campaign finance bundler code that was provided to Jauhari by the Clinton Campaign. In interviews with the Prosecutors Husam Jauhai admits several times that not only he did these foreign donations without Zuberi’s knowledge, he received funds from Saudi national Mohammed Al-Rahbani. It is worthwhile mentioning that Al-Rahbani was related to Prince Turki who was former King Abdullah’s son and was one of the people taken to Ritz Carlton jail by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (MbS) for corruption. All foreign donation were from Jauhari and Al-Rahbani not from Zuberi.
In recent years Al-Rahbani who resides in exile in London and Switzerland has lost his power and business after MbS got rid of Prince Turki and former Crown Prince Mohamed bin Nayef has been actively lobbying against Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman in European and U.S. capitols.
The Prosecutor might be sending an innocent person to jail not for his crimes but for politics.
Has this what American justice system become a Banana Republic?