Mega donor to plead guilty to hiding work as foreign agent
A prolific political fundraiser who raised millions of dollars for Democrats before donating large sums to President Donald Trump’s inaugural committee has agreed to plead guilty to multiple federal charges, including tax evasion and concealing his work as a foreign agent as he lobbied high-level U.S. government officials, the Justice Department said Tuesday.
The allegations against Imaad Zuberi don’t involve his Trump ties but are centered instead on contributions he made during the Obama administration, when officials say he used his donations to obtain access to government officials and persuade them to change American policy in ways favorable to his clients. The case alleges that a fundraiser whose name has surfaced in a separate probe into Trump’s inaugural funding was years earlier soliciting foreign business and leveraging connections to Democratic officials and members of Congress.
A globe-trotting venture capitalist with extensive ties to foreign officials, Zuberi mostly raised money for Democrats but shifted his allegiance to Trump within hours of his 2016 election, eventually donating $900,000 to the president’s inaugural. Before pivoting to Trump on election night, he served as a bundler for Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama, including stints on both of their campaign finance committees.
Federal prosecutors in Los Angeles say Zuberi, 49, has agreed to plead guilty to three counts with a maximum 15-year prison sentence. He is due in court on Oct. 30.
Zuberi did not immediately return messages from The Associated Press seeking comment.
Court documents allege Zuberi over the years solicited money from foreign nationals and representatives of foreign governments by saying that he could use his influence to change foreign policy and create business opportunities for clients and himself. He would distribute to clients photographs of him discussing policy with elected officials as an example of his connections, prosecutors said.
Though his efforts “generated marginal results,” according to the Justice Department, some government officials were willing to adopt the positions for which he advocated,.
Court records say Zuberi solicited donations from foreign nationals and companies and then used straw donors to make donations to U.S. political campaigns. Under federal law, foreign companies and individuals cannot make contributions to U.S. political campaigns.
He is also accused of violating the Foreign Agents Registration Act by concealing a multi-million-dollar contract with the Sri Lankan government he signed in 2014 to help improve the company’s image in the United States. The Justice Department in recent years has stepped up its enforcement of the foreign agents law, which requires lobbyists doing the bidding of foreign governments and entities to register their work.
Zuberi directed millions of dollars from the Sri Lankan contract to himself and his wife for personal purposes, shortchanging lobbyists, public relations and law firms, and certain subcontractors who were part of the lobbying effort.
In addition, prosecutors say that Zuberi illegally and covertly tried to “convince high-ranking U.S. Government officials to apply political pressure on the Bahrain government into stopping its interference” with a master planned development in that country.
U.S. Attorney Nick Hanna, the top federal prosecutor in Los Angeles, said in a statement that Zuberi had lined his pockets by “representing foreign clients, obtaining access for clients by making a long series of illegal contributions, and skimming money paid by his clients.”
“Mr. Zuberi circumvented laws designed to insulate U.S. policy and our election process from foreign intervention,” Hanna said. “This investigation has halted his illegal conduct, will result in several felony convictions, and could send him to prison for a lengthy period of time.”
Records reviewed by the AP show Zuberi had been on the radar of federal authorities in New York for months and was even singled out in a subpoena sent to Trump’s inaugural committee seeking an array of records. That inquiry appears to be focused in part on whether any foreign nationals helped fund the $107 million celebration. But the conduct alleged in the Los Angeles case occurred in the years before Trump was elected.
Since being named in the inaugural subpoena, Zuberi deleted years of social media posts that chronicled his extensive travels and meetings with elected officials.
Those posts show that Zuberi enjoyed close access to several top politicians in both parties, including Hillary Clinton, Joe Biden, Obama, Sen. Lindsey Graham and several other members of Congress who are active in foreign affairs.
In one picture, Zuberi is sitting next to actor Robert De Niro at a dinner with Hillary Clinton. In another, Zuberi is chatting with Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu in Trump Tower days after Trump is inaugurated.