Judge limits juror questions in Seda trial

Judge limits jury questions in long-awaited money-laundering, tax-evasion case
Mail Tribune photo illustrationAP

Prospective jurors in Pete Seda's federal money-laundering and tax-evasion trial won't be grilled Monday about their views on Islam, radical Islam's so-called "Holy War" against nonbelievers, racial profiling or whether they associate with Arabs in their daily lives.

Jurors also won't be asked whether or what political organizations should be outlawed here, whether they have family members in military service in the Middle East, their views on "guilt by association" or how they've reacted to anti-Arab sentiment in past personal conversations.

Those are some of the questions in 20 pages of specific queries defense attorneys sought to have U.S. District Court Judge Michael Hogan ask the pool of potential jurors beginning Monday in Hogan's Eugene courtroom.

Hogan denied the defense request Thursday while ruling on a spate of legal motions on witnesses and exhibits to be presented during Seda's long-awaited trial.

Hogan has yet to rule on whether he will allow two-way video testimony from China by an 11th-hour defense witness who was present on the 2000 trip when Seda's codefendant, Soliman Al-Buthi, allegedly smuggled $151,000 from Ashland to Saudi Arabia to fund Chechen rebels later labeled terrorists.

These were the latest of 434 prosecution and defense filings in the government's case alleging the man known in Ashland as an Islamic peace activist used his defunct Al-Haramain Islamic Foundation chapter to help fund international terror.

Seda was indicted on charges that he helped Al-Buthi skirt financial reporting laws by smuggling the money out of the country without declaring it, then later hid the transaction by signing a false tax return.

Seda, 52, was indicted on the federal charges 51/2 years ago while he was out of the country. He returned as an international fugitive on Aug. 15, 2007, to fight the charges.

Seda's been free under federal supervision ever since, recently living in Portland, while defense lawyers and federal prosecutors slugged it out in court for three years over what jurors can and can't hear about the case beginning Monday.

Al-Buthi, a Saudi Arabian national, is under federal indictment but remains free in his home country. The United States has no extradition treaty with Saudi Arabia.

Both the defunct chapter and Al-Buthi have been designated by the federal government as supporters of terrorism. Seda has side-stepped that designation.

One of the late filings involves a man defense attorneys say is a former Saudi national and naturalized U.S. citizen who joined Al-Buthi on the 2000 trip when he allegedly smuggled $130,000 in traveler's checks and a $21,000 cashier's check from Oregon to Saudi Arabia in violation of federal reporting laws.

Defense documents state the man, Muhammad Sui, joined Al-Buthi on both legs of the journey from Saudi Arabia to Ashland and back for sightseeing purposes, to "make new friends" and to meet Seda.

Sui told defense investigators he witnessed the transfer of the traveler's checks between Seda and Al-Buthi, and never heard anyone here discuss Holy War against non-Muslims, an affidavit states.

Sui would testify that he and Al-Buthi were never approached by customs agents nor personally presented with any customs forms for Al-Buthi to declare the money properly, a defense memorandum states.

Prosecutors have argued that Al-Buthi knowingly bypassed the required financial declaration on that trip, and that he knew the documents were required because he had filed them on past trips.

Defense investigators have been looking for Sui for 16 months, only to find him less than two weeks ago living in Guangzhou, China, records show.

Sui has told federal public defender investigator James Strupp that he is unwilling to travel voluntarily to the U.S. for Seda's trial, saying it would jeopardize unspecified business interests, Strupp's affidavit states.

Strupp stated he does not believe he could serve Sui with a criminal subpoena in the case because of rules outlined in the Hague Convention, but that Sui has agreed to testify via two-way television.

In a Thursday hearing, Hogan denied defense attorneys' request to delay the trial while they pursue getting Sui to testify personally. He has yet to rule on the defense's back-up plan of video testimony.

Reach Mark Freeman at 541-776-4470, or e-mail at mfreeman@mailtribune.com.

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