By Jeremy Pelofsky
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Two U.S. citizens have been charged with illegally lobbying the United States for the Pakistani government and its spy agency over the disputed territory of Kashmir, U.S. authorities said on Tuesday.
Syed Ghulam Nabi Fai, 62, was arrested in Virginia on charges that he failed to register as an agent of a foreign government in his capacity as director of the Kashmiri American Council and for receiving at least $4 million from Pakistan for his lobbying efforts.
Zaheer Ahmad, 63, was also charged but is believed to be at large in Pakistan.
The arrest and allegations are likely to only further strain ties between Washington and Islamabad which were already complicated -- particularly after U.S. forces conducted a secret raid in Pakistan in May that killed al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden.
Control over the mountainous region of Kashmir has been at the center of hostilities between Pakistan and India, two countries that now have nuclear arms, since their partition in 1947. The area is heavily militarized, and has been the scene of numerous conflicts, including a 1999 war.
An FBI affidavit detailed the alleged scheme in which Fai's organization received up to $700,000 annually from Pakistan to make campaign contributions to U.S. politicians, sponsor conferences and other promotions.
One unidentified confidential witness told investigators that Pakistan's powerful military spy agency, the Inter-Services Intelligence Agency (ISI), was behind some of the money Fai received, according to the FBI affidavit.
A second confidential witness said the spy agency had sponsored and controlled Fai's organization and had been directing him for the past 25 years, the court papers said.
Foreign nationals and governments are banned from making contributions to U.S. campaigns and anyone who lobbies on behalf of a foreign government must register with the U.S. Justice Department.
Fai, his nonprofit group and Ahmad never registered that they were working on behalf of the Pakistani government, U.S. authorities said.
"Mr. Fai is accused of a decades-long scheme with one purpose -- to hide Pakistan's involvement behind his efforts to influence the U.S. government's position on Kashmir," Neil MacBride, U.S. Attorney for Eastern Virginia, said in a statement.
It was not immediately clear if Fai had a lawyer yet. One U.S. official said the investigation was ongoing. The FBI affidavit said Fai denied during past interviews that he lobbied, saying instead that he was involved in public relations.
As part of the scheme, Pakistan allegedly funneled money to Fai through Ahmad and contributions by others which were reimbursed by the Pakistani government. Fai then used the funds for campaign donations, conferences and other lobbying efforts, the affidavit said.
Federal election records showed that Fai gave $23,500 to U.S. political candidates since 1997, including $250 to President Barack Obama's presidential campaign as well as $7,500 to Republican Representative Dan Burton of Indiana.
The Justice Department said that there was no evidence that any elected officials who received the contributions from Fai or his organization knew that it came from the Pakistani government.
(Editing by Cynthia Osterman)