Prison for ex-Rep. Siljander: He aided terrorist-linked charity
He’s a Christian, a family man and a former Michigan congressman, and now Mark Deli Siljander will also become a prisoner after helping an Islamic charity designated as a terrorist group and suspected of having ties to Al Qaeda.
"I did something wrong," Siljander pleaded with U.S. District Judge Nanette Laughrey before she sentenced him to a year and a day in federal prison for obstruction of justice and acting as an unregistered foreign agent, according to the Associated Press. "I mistreated the system I believe in. I mistreated my family and friends. I should have known better. I failed too many people, including myself and my family. I ask for your mercy."
The story begins in 1999, when the Columbia, Mo.-based Islamic American Relief Agency lost two federal grants in Mali.
According to the U.S. Treasury, the relief agency’s African branch had begun consorting with Osama bin Laden and the group Maktab Al-Khidamat, an Al Qaeda precursor. It would later be accused of directly financially supporting Bin Laden.
It’s possible the Missouri office didn’t know the African branch had ties to terror groups at all; prosecutors didn’t allege that folks in the office knew of such ties, according to the Kansas City Star.
Instead, the American group fell into trouble for attempting end runs around the various financial clamps the U.S. has placed on adversaries in the Arab world.
As it turns out, the relief agency’s American office didn’t return all of the federal money it received. It paid $50,000 of the unreturned grant money to Siljander — who received $75,000 overall — to lobby Congress to take the charity off a Senate list of organizations accused of financing terror groups.
But Siljander, a Michigan Republican who served in Congress from 1981 to 1987, never registered as a foreign-paid lobbyist and later lied to investigators about what he was doing, claiming he was getting paid to write a book about Christian-Islamic relations.
Meanwhile, the charity’s former executive director, Mubarak Hamed, quietly funneled more than $1 million of the charity’s money to Iraq, which was then under punishing American economic sanctions.
The operation fell apart in 2004 when the U.S. Treasury suspected the larger charity was part of the global financing network that transnational terrorist groups such as Al Qaeda need to operate. The charity shut down after the government designated it a terrorist organization.
Criminal charges came three years later as officials pieced together the Missouri office’s involvement in violating the Iraq sanctions and foreign lobbying requirements.
Hamed received a five-year, 10-month sentence Monday for violating the sanctions, and three other charity fund-raisers and board members also received probation.
Siljander might have been facing a heavier sentence if not for tearful family testimony and help from some powerful friends. Former Reagan administration Atty. Gen. Edwin Meese praised Siljander’s “exemplary life of service to the public” and Democratic former American U.N. Ambassador Bill Richardson added his own in sealed letters to the court quoted in a public filing by The Star.
"I came in this morning with the thought that I would sentence you to a longer time in jail," judge Laughrey said, according to the AP, but added that no real harm had been done. She laid down the sentence as a matter of course.
"For me, the real harm is that you kept lying to the government," she said.
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--Matt Pearce in Kansas City, Mo.
Photo: Former Republican Rep. Mark Deli Siljander, center, his wife Nancy, left, and members of his legal team leave federal court in Kansas City, Mo.. in July 2010. Credit: Orlin Wagner/Associated Press