Imaad Zuberi, a Pakistani-American businessman was jailed for 12 years after pleading guilty to charges which include the obstruction of a federal investigation into a Trump inaugural committee donation, falsifying records and a failure to disclose and pay tax on US$5.65 million received from the Sri Lankan government to lobby in Washington to improve its image.
Zuberi was also sentenced on a range of other charges which he had pleaded guilty to in 2019, and could have faced a maximum sentence of 15 years in federal prison. Some charges were related to US$1 million in illegal campaign donations made from April 2012 through October 2016 to leading Democratic candidates, alongside a near US$1 million donation made to the former President Donal J. Trump’s inaugural committee in 2016.
Other charges related to his lobbying work in Washington for the government of Sri Lanka, whose image he was trying to repair in Washington amid concerns about the country’s treatment of Tamils. He had received the bulk of the money over a 5 month period in 2014, in particular a lobbying firm owned by Zuberi received US$2 million from the Sri Lankan government and was tasked with influencing the US government policy on Sri Lanka under the Obama administration, Zuberi himself also a large donor to former presidents campaign. In total the Sri Lankan government has spent at least $US100 million on US lobbying firms in order to improve the country’s international image. Zuberi had also received unregistered lobbying money from the Qatari and Turkish governments and an Ukrainian oligarch with close ties to Vladimir Putin – as revealed by court documents disclosed by the Associated Press.
Zuberi falsified records with the Justice Department under the Foreign Agents Registration Act to conceal his lobbying for Sri Lanka and diverted most of the money to benefit himself and his wife,of the estimated US$ 6.5 million paid by Sri Lanka to Zuberi, US$ 5.65 million is thought to have been spent on personal uses . Following the sentencing, John C. Demers Assistant attorney general for national security said
“This sentence should deter others who would seek to corrupt our political processes and compromise our institutions in exchange for foreign cash,”.
Sri Lanka’s lobbying corruption
The Sri Lankan government has previously implicated a DUP MP, Ian Paisley Jr serving under then Prime minister Theresa May in a lobbying scandal. He accepted two all-inclusive holidays worth £100,000 from the Sri Lankan government. The trip was funded by the Sri Lankan ministry of external affairs and hoped it would help secure trade deals for the state. Ian Paisley Jr, who failed to disclose the trips in the commons register of interests was reported to have had a helicopter provided for him and his family to be taken around the Island during his trips.