The U.S. government’s approach to enforcing the restrictions and requirements found in the Foreign Agents Registration Act (“FARA”) has evolved over the statute’s 80-year history. FARA was used during the World War II era to successfully prosecute 23 criminal cases, mostly involving propagandists. Few cases were brought between the enactment of the 1966 FARA amendments and the 2016 election, but the Department of Justice now appears to be in a more aggressive enforcement posture. You can find a general historical overview of FARA’s enforcement history in the Department of Justice Criminal Resource Manual.
A “willful” violation of FARA is a criminal act that can carry penalties of up to five years in prison and up to a $10,000 fine. For any FARA violation that is not “willful,” the Department of Justice is authorized by law to seek a civil court order “enjoining [a] person from continuing to act as an agent” or “requiring compliance” with the statute.
For your reference, provided below are summaries of selected criminal and civil enforcement cases involving FARA. We will add to these summaries over time. Please note that some cases pursued under FARA’s “sister provision” at 18 U.S.C. § 951, which pertains to certain foreign-government agents, are often misidentified or mistakenly reported as being “FARA cases.”
Summaries of Selected Criminal Cases
- Nisar Chaudhry (2018)—Mr. Chaudhry, a Pakistani national and U.S. permanent resident, pleaded guilty in 2018 for willfully failing to file a FARA registration statement. He represented himself to be the President of the “Pakistan American League,” which was an unincorporated entity of his own creation that was ostensibly engaged in activities “solely educational in nature and executed for the benign purpose of encouraging better relations between the United States and Pakistan.” According to his plea, Mr. Chauhdry engaged in “political activities” as an agent of the Pakistan Government from 2012 to 2018 by organizing roundtable discussions with U.S. officials and press conferences with American press outlets for visiting Pakistani government officials, obtaining in-depth information about U.S. policies toward Pakistan, and neutralizing unfavorable views of Pakistan held by U.S. persons. Mr. Chaudhry routinely interacted with the Pakistan Government and its U.S. Embassy, with the “consideration” for his activities taking the form of invitations to events, meetings with high-level Pakistani officials, assistance with procuring public jobs for relatives, assistance with securing Pakistani visas for associates, reimbursement for expenses, and the use of diplomatic channels to mail personal items.
- Prince Asiel Ben Israel (2014)—Mr. Ben Israel of Illinois pleaded guilty and was sentenced to seven months in prison for willfully failing to register under FARA in connection with his activities on behalf of the Government of Zimbabwe. Mr. Ben Israel began discussing the possible removal of U.S. sanctions against Zimbabwe in 2008 with government and political party officials in Zimbabwe. He arranged for trips by U.S. officials to meet with Zimbabwean officials, attempted to have Zimbabwean officials speak at issues forums in the U.S., arranged travel and meetings in the U.S. for Zimbabwean officials, and lobbied state legislators on behalf of Zimbabwean officials. Mr. Ben Israel traveled to Africa to withdraw $90,000 from the bank account of a Zimbabwean official after a wire transfer was blocked by his U.S. bank.
- Syed Ghulam Nab Fai (2011)—Mr. Fai, a U.S. citizen, pleaded guilty and was sentenced to two years in prison for concealing his receipt of a payment for lobbying from the Government of Pakistan. Mr. Fai was originally charged with willfully failing to register under FARA, but the FARA charge was later dropped at the time he pleaded guilty to other charges. Mr. Fai served as the director of the Kashmiri American Council, a U.S. nonprofit, that “held itself out to be run by Kashmiris, financed by Americans, and dedicated to raising the level of knowledge in the United States about the struggle of the Kashmiri people for self-determination.” Court documents indicated, however, that the Council was funded by the Government of Pakistan’s intelligence service. Mr. Fai’s lobbying work lasted from 1990 until 2011.
- Mark Siljander and Abdel Azim El-Siddig (2010)—Mr. Siljander, a former U.S. Congressman, pleaded guilty and received a one-year sentence for obstructing justice and willfully failing to register under FARA. Mr. Siljander was hired in 2004 to lobby various U.S. officials for the removal of the Islamic American Relief Agency, which served as the U.S. office of a Sudan-based international organization, from a U.S. Senate Finance Committee list of charities suspected of funding terrorism. Mr. Siljander’s payments for the lobbying services were funneled through multiple nonprofit entities at his instruction. Mr. El-Siddig, who was an employee of the Islamic American Relief Agency, also pleaded guilty for failing to register under FARA and received two years’ probation.
- Tongsun Park (2007)—Mr. Park was convicted at trial and received a five-year sentence for conspiracy to violate FARA and other federal laws in connection with his efforts on behalf of the Government of Iraq to lobby for the easing of U.S. sanctions on Iraq and influence the award conditions of United Nations “Oil for Food” contracts. Mr. Park primarily served as an intermediary to United Nations officials, while an associate interfaced primarily with U.S. government officials and other U.S. persons. Mr. Park received $2 million for his efforts and worked on behalf of Saddam Hussein’s regime from 1992 until 2003.
- Samir Vincent (2005)—Mr. Vincent, an Iraqi-born naturalized U.S. citizen, pleaded guilty and received a five-year prison sentence for crimes connected with his activities on behalf of the Iraqi Government. Mr. Vincent was originally charged with willfully failing to register under FARA, but ultimately entered a guilty plea for violating FARA’s “sister provision” at 18 U.S.C. § 951 and committing other federal crimes. From 1992 to 2003, Mr. Vincent received direction from Saddam Hussein’s regime and intelligence service related to influencing U.S. sanctions imposed on Iraq and to affecting the structure of the United Nations “Oil for Food” program. Mr. Vincent received millions of dollars in cash and Iraqi oil allocations for his efforts.
- Sam Zakhem (1992)—Mr. Zakhem, a former U.S. ambassador, was indicted for willfully failing to register under FARA and for violating other federal laws. The Department of Justice alleged that Mr. Zakhem and two associates accepted $7.7 million from the Government of Kuwait through a group called the Coalition for America at Risk to win support for American military intervention following Iraq’s 1990 invasion, an effort that allegedly involved the retention of a prominent public-relations firm and the placement of several newspaper advertisements. The FARA charges were later dropped in 1994 after the principal Assistant U.S. Attorney responsible for the case resigned. Mr. Zakhem was later acquitted of the remaining federal tax charges.
- John McGoff (1986)—Mr. McGoff, a U.S. citizen who owned several newspapers throughout the United States, was charged with a willful failure to register under FARA for his activities on behalf of the Government of South Africa. The Department of Justice alleged that Mr. McGoff accepted $11 million from the South African Department of Information in 1979 to acquire the “Washington Star” newspaper and transform it into a publication that would promote South Africa’s “point of view” in the United States. The U.S. District Court dismissed the case on the basis that the five-year statute of limitations barred prosecution, finding that the alleged offense was completed once Mr. McGoff’s activities had ended in 1979. The D.C. Circuit upheld the District Court’s ruling.
- Tongsun Park (1977)—Mr. Park, who would later be convicted in 2007 for willfully violating FARA, was initially charged in 1977 for willfully failing to register under FARA for his activities on behalf of the Korean Central Intelligence Agency during the 1970s. Mr. Park’s activities involved South Korea’s participation in the U.S. “Food for Peace” program and receipt of several million dollars, some of which was diverted for bribery and lobbying expenses. The FARA charges against Mr. Park were ultimately dropped as part of a plea bargain.
Summaries of Selected Civil Cases
- Young & Rubicam (1991)—Young & Rubicam, an advertising agency, was registered under FARA in connection with its advertising activities on behalf of the Jamaica Tourist Board to promote tourism. The Department of Justice filed a civil complaint against the firm for failing to report on its FARA filings an $894,626 disbursement to Ad Ventures, Ltd., a firm with no fixed address and a Cayman Islands bank account.
- “Canadian Films” Case (1987)—The New York office of the National Film Board of Canada, an agency of the Canadian Government, was registered under FARA and any materials it distributed were labeled as “political propaganda” by the Department of Justice. California State Senator Barry Keene wanted to exhibit three National Film Board of Canada films but did not want to be regarded publicly as a disseminator of foreign political propaganda. Mr. Keene sued, seeking to enjoin the Department from applying FARA and its labeling requirements to the films. The U.S. Supreme Court, which ultimately heard the case on appeal, held 5-3 that FARA and its labeling requirements were constitutional on the basis that FARA did not prohibit Mr. Keene from distributing the films and that the labeling requirement was not harmful to Mr. Keene’s First Amendment rights because the “political propaganda” label was “neutral, evenhanded, and without pejorative connotation.”
- Irish People, Inc. (1986)—The Department of Justice brought a civil action against the New York publisher of The Irish People weekly newspaper to require it to register under FARA as an “agent” of the Irish Northern Aid Committee, which was itself registered as a FARA “agent” for the Irish Republican Army. The District Court ordered it to register. However, the D.C. Circuit Court held that the available evidence, including overlapping personnel with INAC, financial support from INAC, shared offices and telephones with INAC, and “a coincidence of editorial views” with INAC, was insufficient to establish that the publisher was an “agent” and remanded the case back to the District Court. Prior to the remanded proceedings, the publisher and INAC entered into a settlement agreement with the Department that required increased disclosure.
- Irish Northern Aid Committee (1981)—The Irish Northern Aid Committee (“INAC”), a U.S. nonprofit association, registered and reported its representation of an Irish nonprofit called the Northern Aid Committee under FARA after receiving a directive to do so from the Department of Justice. The Department subsequently obtained substantial uncontroverted evidence that it believed constituted an admission that INAC was acting as an “agent” of the Irish Republican Army. Consequently, the Department instructed INAC to also list the Irish Republican Army as a “foreign principal” and correct other deficiencies in INAC’s FARA filings. When INAC failed to follow the Department’s instructions, the government filed a civil suit to enjoin INAC to correct its public filings and stop violating FARA. The civil suit was successful, with the U.S. District Court holding that INAC’s evidence made the group’s “agent” status clear and that INAC was required to comply with the Department’s instructions.
- William “Billy” Carter (1980)—The Department of Justice pursued a civil action against William “Billy” Carter, the brother of President Jimmy Carter, who rendered services to the Libyan Government in 1978 and 1979. Mr. Carter received substantial payments, all-expenses-paid trips, and other personal items as compensation. Mr. Carter signed a consent agreement that required him to file a FARA registration statement and reports detailing his relationship with the Libyan Government. The U.S. Senate Intelligence Committee also conducted its own investigation of Mr. Carter.