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[Benevolence International Foundation Arnaout] Pleads Not Guilty

Charity chief pleads not guilty

12:18 PM EDT,October 18, 2002
By MIKE ROBINSON, Associated Press Writer

The leader of an Islamic-charity pleaded not guilty Friday to charges that he helped to bankroll Osama bin Laden's terrorist network, and his attorney said the case was assigned to the wrong judge.
Enaam Arnaout, 40, head of Benevolence International Foundation, appeared briefly before U.S. District Judge Suzanne B. Conlon in a courtroom guarded not only by marshals but an explosives-sniffing dog.

The Syrian-born Arnaout, who says his Palos Hills-based group helps the poor and the downtrodden in the Islamic world but not terrorists, was silent as attorneys discussed which judge will preside over the case.

Arnaout attorney Joseph Duffy wants Conlon to transfer the seven-count racketeering and fraud indictment to U.S. District Judge Joan B. Gottschall, who in September dismissed perjury charges against Arnaout.

Duffy said Gottschall should preside over the case because she already has spent considerable time in understanding its intricacies and issues.

But Assistant U.S. Attorney John Kocoras immediately objected, and Conlon said she would consider the request and make a decision later.

Duffy appeared in the courthouse lobby after the arraignment and told reporters that ``something was circumvented in the assignment process when this was assigned to Judge Conlon.

``Mr. Arnaout hopes and prays that the judges of this district will not condone any manipulation of their assignment powers," he said. ``It is the integrity of the local rule (on assignments) that is at issue."

Prosecutors have said that because Gottschall dismissed the perjury indictment there is nothing more for her to do in the case. They say the new charges — announced by Attorney General John Ashcroft at a Chicago news conference last Wednesday — are a completely separate case.

Randall Samborn, a spokesman for the U.S. attorney's office, said the court clerk's office assigns new cases to judges at random.

The case is on the forefront of efforts to stop the flow of dollars to terrorists. They say charities are being used to camouflage the funding of bin Laden and anti-American warlord Gulbeddin Hekmatyar in Afghanistan.

Arnaout was arrested April 30 after a month of surveillance by FBI agents and as he was seeking court permission to leave the United States.

The arrest followed a March 19 raid on Benevolence offices in Bosnia in which documents and photos that prosecutors say link Arnaout to bin Laden were discovered.

He is being held in solitary confinement in the Metropolitan Correctional Center, allowed to leave his cell only in leg irons and handcuffs with a three-guard escort. Duffy, a former prosecutor, says it is the tightest security he has ever seen in the high-rise correctional center a block from the courthouse.,0,3588578.story



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