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Muslim Charity Founder Charged with Perjury - 2002-05-13

A federal judge in Chicago has ruled there is enough evidence to support perjury charges against the leader of a Muslim charity for allegedly lying about ties to terrorism. The government froze the assets of the Benevolence International Foundation after raiding its offices last December.

The U.S. government alleges Enaam Arnaout, the Syrian-born founder of Benevolence International, lied under oath earlier this year when he filed court documents stating he had no ties to terrorists or terrorist organizations.

In a court hearing in Chicago, an FBI agent testified officials found a photo of Osama bin Laden, as well as letters signed by the terrorist leader among the items seized in the government raid on the Benevolence International offices in Bosnia in March. It is just some of the evidence the government says shows Mr. Arnaout does have links to terrorist groups and has lied about it.

Benevolence International's lawyer, Matthew Piers, said he is disappointed but not surprised the judge found probable cause against Mr. Arnaout. The government also wants the court to deny Mr. Arnaout's request for bail, saying he is likely to leave the country. Mr. Piers disagrees. "This is, after all, a charge of perjury, not a charge of violence," he said. This is a man with absolutely no prior criminal record, this is a man with substantial ties to this community."

Benevolence International was one of two Chicago-based Muslim charities raided by the government's terrorism task force in December. The other was the Global Relief Foundation. Both charities are suing the government, hoping to get their assets unfrozen.

Benevolence International lawyer Matt Piers said the freeze-order has left the charity unable to do important work around the world. "It is one thing not to be able to raise money, but the fact is the money goes someplace. In this case," he continued, "it goes to innocent women and children in refugee camps and in hospitals. The government does not dispute that BIF is engaged in very substantial charitable activities."

Benevolence International raises several million dollars a year in the United States, but says the money goes to humanitarian work. Mr. Piers says one project affected by the government's freezing of assets is a pediatric tuberculosis hospital in Russia's Dagestan region. He says the foundation has been unable to pay the doctors and nurses who work at the facility.

The judge in the case is expected to rule in the near future whether Mr. Arnaout can be freed on bail while the government pursues its case against him.