Trump Inaugural Committee Donor to Plead Guilty to Obstruction

Christian Berthelsen and Caleb Melby

(Bloomberg) -- A fundraiser for President Donald Trump will plead guilty to obstructing a federal investigation into his activities, his lawyer said, after U.S. prosecutors accused him of back-dating a check to a fellow donor and deleting email evidence.

Imaad Shah Zuberi was charged Tuesday with a single count of obstruction of justice by prosecutors in the Manhattan U.S. attorney’s office.

Zuberi’s lawyer, David Kelley, said he has agreed to plead guilty to obstruction and is seeking to have the case transferred to Los Angeles, where he lives and where he previously pleaded guilty to charges that he made nearly $1 million in illegal campaign contributions from 2012 to 2016. In that case, he also admitted hiding work for foreign nationals in lobbying the U.S. government. If the transfer is approved, any further hearings on the case would take place in California.

Prosecutors in the Los Angeles case said previously that Zuberi offered $6 million to buy the silence of six witnesses in his case, acted as an unregistered agent for Turkish and Libyan government officials, and illegally sought to burnish the image of Sri Lanka with U.S. officials including members of Congress.

Prior to his work for Trump, Zuberi raised money for the campaigns of former President Barack Obama and the 2016 Democratic nominee, Hillary Clinton. Prosecutors said he was paid $6.5 million by the Sri Lankan government; less than $1 million of that went to the public relations campaign, while $5.65 million went to Zuberi and his wife, they said.

The government said Zuberi didn’t inform the inaugural committee that a $900,000 donation from him included funds from others. Representatives for Trump’s inaugural committee, which is allowed to accept donations only from U.S. persons and entities, have long maintained that they had limited ability to vet the true provenance of donations, such as a $50,000 contribution it received from Sam Patten, an American political operative. Patten pleaded guilty in 2018 to laundering a contribution.

Trump’s inaugural committee raised an unprecedented $100 million to celebrate his election, a fundraising effort that’s attracted the scrutiny of the attorneys general of New York and the District of Columbia, as well as Democrats on the House Judiciary Committee.

After news reports in early 2019 indicated that prosecutors were investigating Zuberi’s donation to Trump’s inaugural committee, Zuberi returned $50,000 to another donor who had given him money but backdated the check so it didn’t appear motivated by news of the inquiry, prosecutors said.

Zuberi also deleted emails between him and others at the time of his $900,000 donation to the committee, including emails with a foreign donor who transferred $5.8 million to Zuberi’s account at the time he funded the inaugural donation, the government said. After prosecutors notified him that they suspected he intentionally deleted the emails with the foreign donor, Zuberi contacted his email service provider and asked how to ensure that his messages weren’t stored on a server, according to the filing.

(Updates with guilty plea)

--With assistance from Chris Dolmetsch.

To contact the reporters on this story: Christian Berthelsen in New York at cberthelsen1@bloomberg.net;Caleb Melby in New York at cmelby@bloomberg.net

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Jeffrey D Grocott at jgrocott2@bloomberg.net, David S. Joachim

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