NEW YORK (Reuters) - Suleiman Abu Ghaith, a son-in-law of Osama bin Laden charged in connection with the September 11, 2001 attacks in the United States, refused on Tuesday to jettison his defense lawyer, who is himself facing federal tax and wire fraud charges.
U.S. District Judge Lewis Kaplan, who is overseeing the case against Abu Ghaith in a federal court in New York, found that Abu Ghaith had knowingly assumed the potential conflict of interest despite the judge’s recommendation that he consider a new lawyer.
The defense lawyer, Stanley Cohen, was indicted last month for failing to report more than $3 million in income to the Internal Revenue Service. The case against Cohen was brought by the U.S. Attorney’s office in Manhattan, the same agency that is prosecuting Abu Ghaith.
At a court hearing, Kaplan warned Abu Ghaith that Cohen could potentially put his own interests ahead of his client’s when dealing with prosecutors, but Abu Ghaith said he preferred to keep Cohen as his attorney.
After his indictment last month, Cohen said in an email that he was “fully confident” he would be vindicated and accused the Justice Department of a “vendetta” against him for his years of activism.
Abu Ghaith, a former spokesman for al Qaeda and one of the highest-profile individuals to be charged in connection with the September 11 attacks, faces charges of conspiring to kill Americans, providing material support and resources to terrorists and conspiring to provide such support.
The trial is scheduled for February 3, though Kaplan is considering Cohen’s request to delay it for a few weeks after the government added new charges in December.
At Tuesday’s hearing, Cohen also requested permission to take testimony in Yemen from Salim Hamdan, bin Laden’s former driver.
Hamdan was the plaintiff in the landmark U.S. Supreme Court case that found the military commissions set up for detainees at Guantanamo Bay in Cuba were unconstitutional. He was eventually convicted under a revised system, though his conviction was overturned in 2012 when a federal appeals court concluded that providing support for terrorism was not a war crime at the time of his alleged conduct.
Hamdan will testify that he never saw Abu Ghaith participate in any plotting, Cohen said in court papers. Prosecutors argued that Hamdan’s testimony is unreliable and that permitting him to testify from Yemen would be improper.
Meanwhile, prosecutors also asked Kaplan to allow one of their witnesses to testify from abroad.
The witness has not been identified in court papers, but, based on his description it appears to be Saajid Badat, who plotted with Richard Reid to blow up airplanes using bombs hidden in their shoes.
Badat did not follow through with the plan; Reid attempted to set off an explosive and is serving a life sentence in the United States. Badat, a British citizen, pleaded guilty in Britain and agreed to cooperate with the government.
Prosecutors are seeking to have Badat testify live via video feed, since he refuses to travel to the United States, where he remains under indictment in Massachusetts for his role in the shoe bomb plot. His testimony will show that Abu Ghaith knew of the shoe bomb plan in advance, prosecutors have said.
Kaplan said he would rule on both requests soon.
The case is U.S. v. Abu Ghayth, U.S. District Court, Southern District of New York, No. 98-cr-01023.
Reporting by Joseph Ax; Editing by Jonathan Oatis