A Los Angeles financier who donated $900,000 to President Donald Trump’s inaugural committee has been charged with falsifying records to hide his work as a foreign agent while he lobbied prominent U.S. government officials, federal prosecutors announced Tuesday.
Shah Zuberi, 49, also known as “Imaad Zuberi,” has agreed to plead guilty to three counts in a criminal information for allegedly making almost $1 million in illegal campaign contributions, engaging in various lobbying efforts, and evading taxes, according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office in the Central District of California.
Prosecutors also allege Zuberi took millions of dollars meant for campaign contributions and lobbyist campaigns for his own personal use.
“Mr. Zuberi’s multi-faceted scheme allowed him to line his pockets by concealing the fact that he was representing foreign clients, obtaining access for clients by making a long series of illegal contributions, and skimming money paid by his clients,” United States Attorney Nick Hanna said in a press release Tuesday announcing the charges.
“Mr. Zuberi circumvented laws designed to insulate U.S. policy and our election process from foreign intervention.”
Zuberi’s spokesperson declined The Daily Beast’s request for comment.
The venture capitalist’s name first came into the public arena in February when federal prosecutors in New York issued a sweeping subpoena for Trump’s Inaugural Committee. Zuberi was the only individual named in the subpoena. Then, in April, The Wall Street Journal reported that Zuberi was involved in a second federal probe in Los Angeles where prosecutors were scrutinizing his relationships with foreign nations.
Prosecutors in California now allege that under the guise of his firm, Avenue Ventures, Zuberi “solicited foreign nations and representatives of foreign governments” with claims he could change U.S. foreign policy with his “influence in Washington, D.C.”
His clients, according to the the criminal information, gave him money for consulting work, investments, and to fund various campaigns. Zuberi then allegedly used the money to hire lobbyists and make campaign contributions—”which gave him access to high-level U.S. officials, some of whom took action in support of his clients,” prosecutors said.
“As evidence of his access and influence, Zuberi distributed to his clients photographs of himself discussing policy with elected officials,” the court documents allege.
According to the criminal information, Zuberi allegedly used the money to mount several lobbyist efforts, including trying to convince the government of Bahrain to lift sanctions on one of its citizens in order to allow the development of a large resort to move forward.
In 2014, Zuberi also secured a contract with the government of Sri Lanka to help “rehabilitate” the country’s image in the U.S., prosecutors allege.
Sri Lanka allegedly agreed to pay Zuberi $8.5 million for the project, which included lobbying efforts, legal expenses, and a media campaign. Days after the country made an initial payment of $3.5 million, the 49-year-old allegedly transferred almost half into his “personal brokerage account and used another $1.5 million to purchase real estate.”
Of the $6.5 million Sri Lanka paid for a rehabilitation campaign, Zuberi allegedly used less than $850,000 on the actual project—telling some subcontractors the country “had not provided sufficient funds to pay invoices,” court documents state.
In his plea agreement with prosecutors, Zuberi admitted to filing a false 2014 tax return that hid the millions he received from Sri Lanka over the course of four years.
Prosecutors noted that while “some U.S. officials were willing to take action on issues” Zuberi pushed, most of his business efforts were unsuccessful and his clients, consultants, and other lobbyists “suffered significant losses.”
Zuberi repeatedly misrepresented his influence and use of his clients’ funds, much of which was ultimately used for his “own personal benefit,” according to the criminal information.
Throughout his scheme, Zuberi also allegedly made dozens of illegal campaign contributions—and pocketed more than $1.1 million from two foreign companies that was meant to fund political campaigns. Zuberi has admitted that from 2012 to 2016, he “made or solicited more than $250,000 in illegal campaign contributions,” prosecutors said.
“American influence is not for sale,” said Paul Delacourt, the assistant director in charge of the FBI’s Los Angeles Field Office. “Mr. Zuberi lured individuals who were seeking political influence in violation of U.S. law, and in the process, enriched himself by defrauding those with whom he interacted.”
Zuberi faces a maximum sentence of 15 years in prison once he pleads guilty to the charges.
The Daily Beast has previously reported that Zuberi had contact with Trump’s former fixer, Michael Cohen, in 2016 and 2017. Sources familiar with the matter said Zuberi initially spoke with Cohen about his plans to attend Trump’s inauguration in January 2017 and inquired about access to high-level events. Zuberi had been told that he would need to pay upward of $1 million to attend the events, where he would rub shoulders with senior administration officials including President-elect Trump himself.
Zuberi spoke with Cohen before and after the inauguration about potential business opportunities the two could embark upon during a Trump administration, according to two sources with knowledge of the conversations. According to those sources, Cohen asked Zuberi to be included as a lawyer on a Manhattan real-estate project. One individual said that deal never went forward.
After his donation, Zuberi earned the spot of helping sponsor the Global Chairman’s Dinner, an event at the inauguration where foreign individuals and representatives can mingle with one another. During this time period, he also worked to help host a breakfast at the Trump Hotel in Washington that included foreign officials from Qatar and Kazakhstan and Trumpworld figures like former National Security Advisor Michael Flynn and Rep. Devin Nunes (R-CA).
Zuberi’s name appears on a document that shows a potential guest list for the breakfast that includes the names of foreign officials. Zuberi is listed as a “source” for those officials on the list. Zuberi’s attorney has previously said that Zuberi did not invite anybody to the breakfast.