Syed Ghulam Nabi Fai admits that he concealed more than $3.5 million in secret funds that his Kashmiri American Council (KAC) received from Pakistan’s spy agency. He just doesn’t think all that cash from Inter-Services Intelligence Directorate (ISI) had any impact on his work.
Fai was sentenced to two years in prison on Friday for his role in a scheme that used straw donors to hide the foreign money Fai used to lobby on behalf of his native Kashmir.
While the 62-year-old had already pleaded guilty back in December, he argued that his lobbying efforts were not affected by the millions he received from Pakistan’s intelligence agency.
“Because he needed financial resources, Dr. Fai was willing to accept funding from any donor that was willing to contribute as long as there were no strings attached to the receipt of the funds,” his lawyer in a court document ahead of his sentencing.
Fai, the lawyer wrote, “strenuously denies that his advocacy on behalf of Kashmir was ever influenced by the official or private positions supported by the government of Pakistan, or that he acted as an agent of Pakistan, or a mouthpiece for its agenda on Jammu and Kashmir.”
In his own letter to the judge, written in an attempt to secure a probation sentence instead of being sent to prison, Fai maintained that the source of his funding didn’t have an impact on his agenda.
“Since the cause was sacred and I needed financial resources, I was willing to take funds as long as there were no strings attached to them,” Fai wrote in a letter to the judge. “The financial dire straits compelled me to accept funds from any source that was willing to contribute. I was frightened of the disclosure that foreign monies were funding our initiatives. If it were to become public knowledge, it would devastate my credibility.”
Federal officials weren’t buying it.
“Fai claims that he concealed his connections to the ISI because revealing them would have undermined ‘his credibility with his constituents and particularly with the government of India and the indigenous Kashmiri resistance’,” federal prosecutors wrote in a sentencing memorandum. “To the contrary, revealing his ISI connection would not have undermined his credibility with the Government of India because he had no credibility with the Government of India; the Indian Government understood that Fai was an agent of Pakistan. Further, revealing his ISI connection would not have undermined his credibility with the ‘indigenous Kashmiri resistance,’ because - - just like the KAC - - the ‘indigenous Kashmiri resistance’ to which Fai refers (in particular, Syed Salahuddin and the Hizbul Mujahideen organization) were financially and logistically supported by ISI from the start anyway.”
ISI’s relationship with Fai was a lot closer than Fai let on even after he pleaded guilty, according to the government. They said Fai entered into contracts with ISI’s approval (and was “reprimanded by his ISI handler when he failed to get such approval in advance”), reported on his activities, submitted his budgets for approval and chose topics for conferences that ISI told him to choose. ISI, the feds said, “held veto power over the people that Fai invited to the KAC conferences.” The government said Fai’s biggest fear was losing credibility from the U.S. government because of his ISI connection.
U.S. Attorney Neil MacBride said that Fai “spent 20 years operating the Kashmiri American Council as a front for Pakistani intelligence” and said he “lied to the Justice Department, the IRS and many political leaders throughout the United States as he pushed the ISI’s propaganda on Kashmir.”