Pakistani-American businessman also a CIA asset: WSJ

Published April 11, 2021
In this Nov 22, 2019, file photo, Imaad Zuberi, left, leaves a federal courthouse with his attorney Thomas O'Brien, second from left, in Los Angeles, US. — AP/File
In this Nov 22, 2019, file photo, Imaad Zuberi, left, leaves a federal courthouse with his attorney Thomas O'Brien, second from left, in Los Angeles, US. — AP/File

WASHINGTON: Imaad Zuberi, a Pakistani-American recently sentenced to 12 years in prison for working for foreign governments, also did intelligence work for the US government for over a decade, The Wall Street Journal reported.

Zuberi, 50, was sentenced in February to 12 years in prison after pleading guilty to tax evasion, foreign-influence peddling and campaign-finance violations.

But WSJ reported that “a key aspect of the case” – that this American businessman was a longtime US intelligence asset – “played out in secret court filings and hearings”. WSJ claimed to have reviewed legal documents underlining his links to the US intelligence agencies.

Before his conviction, Zuberi lived a jet-setting lifestyle and was a major political fundraiser for American leaders like Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton, Donald Trump, Joe Biden and Kamala Harris. He also arranged fund-raising dinners for senior Republican and Democratic members of the US Congress.

Experts say cooperation with the government, if proved, can reduce his sentence

In October 2019, the US Justice Department filed criminal charges against him and soon after he pleaded guilty to those charges. Now his lawyers are preparing to challenge the sentence in an appeal that they say might raise questions over how heavily a defendant’s cooperation with intelligence agencies should be weighed against criminal charges.

“As evidenced by the public docket, national-security issues may have been part of this case and those same issues may ultimately arise as part of the appeal,” his lawyer David Warrington told WSJ.

Other legal experts also told the newspaper that cooperation with the government, if proved, can reduce his sentence.

Prosecutors from the Justice Department declined to comment.

The report claimed that before sentencing Zuberi, US District Judge Virginia Phillips held a closed-door hearing where she considered a sealed document in which Zuberi’s team laid out his account of more than a decade of clandestine help he had provided to the government.

“The CIA relies on well-connected Americans to serve as conduits for information, occasionally tapping them for information, introductions, assistance in recruiting foreigners and even for tasks such as acting as international couriers or acquiring secret information,” WSJ added while commenting on Zuberi’s claim.

According to the report, Zuberi’s legal team compiled a history of their client’s cooperation with the government, which was sealed under a law designed to protect intelligence sources and methods during trials.

In a memo seeking leniency, Zuberi’s legal team wrote: “His cooperation and assistance to this country has spanned over a decade, as described in more detail in Mr. Zuberi’s … filing.” They referred to that record as the “most remarkable list of assistance to the country encountered by experienced counsel and the court”.

WSJ, which claims reviewing the document, said Zuberi’s history of secret help to the CIA continued for more than a decade, “depicting a relationship that started with debriefings about his interactions with foreign officials but grew to involve more formal tasks and missions”.

CIA spokesman Timothy Barrett, when contacted for comments, urged WSJ to contact the Justice Department.

WSJ reported that Zuberi has secured the assistance of two former CIA officials in his defence. Robert Eatinger, a former top lawyer at the agency has joined the defence team since his sentencing. Another, former CIA official Jose Rodriguez, has submitted a sealed affidavit in support of leniency to the judge.

Published in Dawn, April 11th, 2021

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