The U.S. Department of Justice yesterday issued a statement describing the guilty plea of Zuckerman Spaeder client Kassim Tajideen that misleadingly linked Mr. Tajideen to financial support of Hezbollah. As DOJ well knows, Mr. Tajideen was never charged with funding of Hezbollah and his guilty plea, by the government’s admission and by the Court’s acknowledgment, had nothing to do with Hezbollah.
The DOJ release mentioned Hezbollah 13 times. Among other things, it quoted a DEA agent as stating that the plea is “the latest example of DEA’s recent successes against Hezbollah’s global criminal support network.” It is one thing for the Department to congratulate itself on a litigation victory. It is quite another for it to claim that this case in any way affects Hezbollah. This indictment was not about Hezbollah or the financing of Hezbollah. The DOJ lawyer responsible for the case specifically stated, on the record in open court, that “The Court is not going to hear the government come in and say your Honor, the defendant is a supporter of Hezbollah or words to that effect at sentencing.”
The prosecutor’s comment was an affirmative statement that, although the original indictment mentioned Hezbollah, it did not actually charge Mr. Tajideen with financial or other ties to the organization. When Mr. Tajideen asked for facts or documents that supported the reference to Hezbollah, the government steadfastly refused to produce any, insisting that they were irrelevant. Still, after Mr. Tajideen’s repeated demands, DOJ removed all references to Hezbollah from a superseding indictment and agreed it would make no argument that Mr. Tajideen was a supporter of Hezbollah.
Mr. Tajideen pleaded guilty to what he admitted, that is wiring money to United States companies as part of commercial transactions (i.e., the purchase of frozen chicken from suppliers in the United States) while he was included, wrongly in his opinion, on an OFAC list. Mr. Tajideen wanted to prove that his designation on the list was wrong, but the government thwarted those efforts, arguing successfully to the court that Mr. Tajideen was not entitled to evidence of whether the designation was correct or to contest the designation in the case. The resulting charges were highly technical and had nothing to do with the funding of terrorist groups. Specifically, as the government explained to the court, its theory was that Mr. Tajideen did business with U.S. companies without the U.S. companies’ first obtaining a license. Mr. Tajideen, who had been held without bail for a year and a half, ultimately determined that accepting a plea to one of these technical charges was warranted.
It is important that the public understand the truth about this case and not be misinformed, as some apparently have been, that Mr. Tajideen was charged with and admitted to funding Hezbollah or otherwise aiding terrorism.