A political fundraiser in the United States has been accused of acting as an unregistered agent for the Turkish government.
According to federal prosecutors, the donor, Imaad Zuberi, who was accused of funneling foreign money into U.S. elections, worked for Libyan government officials, as well as a Bahraini national, a Ukraine national and Pakistani nationals, in addition to Turkey.
The prosecutors also said that Zuberi offered six witnesses in his case more than $6 million to keep quiet.
The allegations came hours before Zuberi pleaded guilty on Nov. 22 in Los Angeles to charges of tax evasion, campaign finance violations and failing to register as a foreign agent.
The allegation that Zuberi acted as an unregistered agent for Turkey comes about a month after investigators probing his activities questioned a prolific Democratic Party donor who has ties to the administration of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, according to law enforcement records reviewed by The Associated Press.
The records show that prosecutors and FBI agents quizzed the donor, Murat Güzel, a Turkish-American businessman, about his dealings with Zuberi and several U.S. lawmakers and foreign officials. Güzel was granted immunity to speak with authorities, the records show.
As part of their investigation, authorities also examined a $50,000 check Zuberi gave to Güzel earlier this year, according to other records reviewed by the AP.
It was not clear from those records or court filings of Nov. 22 whether Güzel was among the witnesses Zuberi is accused of trying to pay off.
A self-described “commercial diplomat,” Güzel has been an outspoken supporter of Turkey while being active in politics as a member of the Democratic National Committee. He immigrated to the U.S. more than 30 years ago and owns organic fruit companies in Pennsylvania.
Güzel’s Facebook account, which featured pictures of him with several prominent Democratic lawmakers at fundraisers and other events, was deleted after he was contacted by The Associated Press.
Güzel has actively advocated for policies backed by Erdoğan. Last year he led a news conference outside Congress where he criticized U.S. support for militants of the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF).
Güzel’s emails also appear in a 2016 Wikileaks dump of Erdoğan son-in-law’s emails. In one email, Güzel boasted of getting a former congressman to write an op-ed praising Turkey as a key ally.
Güzel and Zuberi are also connected through federal campaign finance records and social media postings.
Zuberi, 49, was a major donor to former President Barack Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton but became a generous supporter of President Donald Trump within hours of his 2016 election.
He has been under scrutiny by federal prosecutors in both California and New York over millions of dollars in political contributions.
Federal prosecutors in New York scrutinized a $900,000 donation he made to Trump’s inaugural committee and singled him out in a subpoena to the inaugural committee seeking a wide array of records about the $107 million celebration. The inaugural committee has not been accused of wrongdoing.
In the Los Angeles case, Zuberi was accused of soliciting donations from foreign nationals and companies and then acting as a straw donor to make donations to several U.S. political campaigns. The charges in that case are unrelated to Trump’s inauguration.
So far, he has been charged only in Los Angeles. Zuberi’s attorneys had requested a delay of the hearing on Nov. 22, saying they had been blindsided by prosecutors in New York saying they intended to charge him with additional crimes.
In a court filing, the U.S. attorney’s office in Los Angeles accused Zuberi of stalling. The office told the judge that if Zuberi did not plead guilty as scheduled, his plea agreement would be voided and he would be hit with additional charges, including wire fraud, money laundering and obstruction of justice related to $50,000 Zuberi is alleged to have paid a witness.
The filing said prosecutors would present evidence at sentencing that Zuberi had obstructed the investigation “by paying, or offering to pay, $6,150,000 to six witnesses in return for their false testimony or silence.”