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Trump inaugural donor charged with campaign finance and lobbying violations

ALEXANDER MALLIN, SOO RIN KIM and LUCIEN BRUGGEMAN

Trump inaugural donor charged with campaign finance and lobbying violations originally appeared on abcnews.go.com

Federal prosecutors charged a California-based money manager, who donated nearly $1 million to President Donald Trump’s inaugural committee, with foreign lobbying practices violations, tax evasion and breaking campaign finance laws, the Justice Department announced Tuesday.

Imaad Zuberi, 49, is expected to plead guilty to the charges, the U.S. Attorney's Office in the Central District of California said.

Prior to his donations to the Trump inaugural committee, Zuberi had long been a prolific political donor to Democrats, including President Barack Obama and Trump's 2016 opponent, Hillary Clinton. After the election, Zuberi’s company, Avenue Ventures, donated $900,000 to Trump's inaugural committee, according to FEC records.

(MORE: New York prosecutors seek records from Trump inauguration committee: Sources)

Many of the crimes described by federal prosecutors took place prior to his donation to Trump. The candidates to whom Zuberi funneled money are not named in the court records, but are said to include both federal and state campaigns.

According to court documents filed Tuesday, federal prosecutors said Zuberi had "solicited foreign nationals and representatives of foreign governments with claims he could use his influence in Washington, D.C. to change United States foreign policy and create business opportunities for his clients and himself."

PHOTO: President Donald Trump waves to the crowds during the 58th U.S. Presidential Inauguration after he was sworn in as the 45th President of the United States of America, Jan. 20, 2017. (Samuel Corum/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)

Zuberi kept more than $1 million of those foreign-based funds, which came from individuals in Sri Lanka and Bahrain, for his own personal use, the Justice Department said.

"Mr. Zuberi circumvented laws designed to insulate U.S. policy and our election process from foreign intervention," United States Attorney Nick Hanna said in a statement. “This investigation has halted his illegal conduct, will result in several felony convictions, and could send him to prison for a lengthy period of time.”

ABC News reported in February that federal prosecutors in New York had subpoenaed documents from President Donald Trump's inauguration committee about its dealings with Zuberi and his company, Avenue Ventures.

(MORE: Mueller probe shines spotlight on DC insiders lobbying for foreign nations)

Zuberi will make an initial appearance in Los Angeles on Oct. 30.

This isn't the first time Zuberi's lobbying work in Sri Lanka has been scrutinized. Zuberi generated headlines as early as 2015, when Foreign Policy reported that the Sri Lanka government paid him and his company more than $6 million over five months in 2014, in part to try and influence U.S. foreign policy. That led to a Justice Department probe into whether he failed to register under the Foreign Agents Registration Act, but he was never charged at that time.

PHOTO: Michael Cohen, former personal lawyer to President Donald Trump, exits his home in New York, May 6, 2019. (Stephanie Keith/Bloomberg via Getty Images)

Since Trump's victory in November 2016, Zuberi has had frequent run-ins with close advisers of Trump, including the then-president's personal attorney Michael Cohen, Trump's former national security adviser Michael Flynn and former White House chief of staff Steve Bannon, according to pictures posted on Zuberi's personal social media accounts, reviewed by ABC News.

Zuberi, who has business interests in multiple countries around the world, including Sri Lanka, Qatar, Turkey and Pakistan, has reportedly sought help from Cohen before and after the inauguration getting access to high-level Trump administration staffers for potential business opportunities, to which Cohen told Zuberi that it would cost upward of $1 million to attend high-level events, including festivities around the inauguration, sources familiar with the matter told ABC News.

(MORE: Arrest of Giuliani associates tied to Ukraine scandal renews scrutiny on campaign finance rules)

During one of the inaugural events Zuberi was invited to, he sat next to government officials from Turkey, where he was pursuing a business project, and at another inaugural dinner, Zuberi rubbed shoulders with U.S. lawmakers, New York business executives and diplomats from Cambodia, Cameroon and Bahrain, where he has big investments, according to The New York Times.

In an interview with The New York Times earlier this year, when he was subpoenaed by New York prosecutors, Zuberi said his donations were "more of a networking thing," with a goal of helping him meet people who could help his business pursuits.

"To open doors, I have to donate. It's just a fact of life," Zuberi told The New York Times.