WASHINGTON (Reuters) - A naturalized U.S. citizen, accused of illegally lobbying the U.S. government for Pakistan and its spy agency over the disputed territory of Kashmir, can be released from jail while awaiting trial, a judge ruled on Tuesday.
Magistrate Judge John Anderson rejected the argument of a U.S. prosecutor. who said that Syed Ghulam Nabi Fai, 62, represented a flight risk and should be kept in jail. Fai, a native of Kashmir, was arrested last week.
Fai and Zaheer Ahmad, 63, were charged with taking part in a conspiracy to act as Pakistani agents in the United States without registering as foreign agents. Ahmad, also a naturalized U.S. citizen, is believed to be in Pakistan.
The case could add to the already difficult relationship between Washington and Islamabad after U.S. forces conducted a secret raid in Pakistan in May that killed al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden.
At a federal court hearing in Alexandria, Virginia, the judge ruled that Fai must post $100,000 in bond and he required detention at Fai’s home in Virginia, along with electronic monitoring.
Fai’s travel is restricted to the Washington, D.C., area, and he must have no contact with Ahmad, any potential witnesses or with any foreign government representatives, Anderson ruled from the bench at the end of the 30-minute hearing.
The courtroom was packed was Fai’s supporters.
Fai served as executive director of a Washington group, the Kashmiri American Council, also known as the Kashmir Center, that described itself as a nonprofit organization run by Kashmiris and financed by Americans.
But an FBI affidavit filed in court last week said Fai and the group received more than $4 million from the Pakistani government since the mid-1990s in an effort to influence the U.S. government’s position on Kashmir.
The affidavit said a confidential witness told U.S. investigators that Pakistan’s military spy agency, the Inter-Services Intelligence Agency, secretly sponsored and controlled Fai’s organization and directed him for years.
Prosecutor Gordon Kromberg said at the hearing that Fai admitted to an FBI agent after his arrest last week his affiliation with the Pakistani intelligence agency for 15 years and that he had been in contact with his “handlers.”
Kromberg said the foreign intelligence service has an obligation to protect Fai and that he presented a risk of fleeing the country.
Defense lawyer Nina Ginsberg disagreed. She said Pakistan has strenuously denied the allegations in the case and that there was no evidence to support Kromberg’s claims that the intelligence agency would try to help Fai.
Fai, who did not say anything during the hearing, faces up to five years in prison if convicted. No date has been set for his trial.
Kashmir is divided between India and Pakistan, both of which claim the mountainous region in full. They have fought two of their three wars over it. Kashmiri separatists in India want to carve out an independent homeland or merge with predominantly Muslim Pakistan.
Reporting by James Vicini; Editing by Eric Walsh