Far from the spotlight of Special Counsel Robert Mueller, a Maryland man has pled guilty and is awaiting sentencing for violating the Foreign Agents Registration Act (FARA), highlighting the U.S. Department of Justice’s (DOJ) renewed attention on enforcement of the once little-known FARA.

Nisar Ahmed Chaudhry, a U.S. permanent resident and Pakistani national pled guilty to charges that he failed to register as a foreign agent in connection with lobbying work he did from 2012 through 2018 for the Pakistani government in an effort to shape U.S. foreign policy, the DOJ reported last month. Prosecutors say Chaudhry, 71, who represented himself as the president of the Pakistan American League, organized discussions in the Washington area aimed at influencing U.S. policy and travelled to Pakistan to brief government officials there on information that he had learned from American contacts.

In a sentencing hearing scheduled for July 30, Mr. Chaudhry faces up to five years in prison, a $10,000 fine and three years of supervised release upon completion of the prison term.   This case serves as a cautionary tale for individuals and companies representing foreign interests in the U.S. who are looking to avoid a similar fate.

Enforced by the Counterespionage Section of the National Security Division of the DOJ, FARA is a disclosure statute that seeks to ensure that all persons acting politically or quasi-politically on behalf of foreign entities in the U.S. properly disclose their activities to the U.S. government.

FARA has been on the books since 1938, but prior to the headlines about the investigation into Russian interference and possible collusion in the 2016 election, yielded few criminal convictions.  A 2016 departmental audit by the Justice Department’s inspector general found that the department lacked a comprehensive enforcement strategy, underscored by a pattern of chronic underenforcement. The report uncovered that between 1966 and 2015, the department only brought seven prosecutions for FARA violations. In response, the DOJ has since dialed up its enforcement strategy.

Wiley Rein’s International Trade Practice has published our Foreign Agents Registration Act (FARA) Handbook, which reviews the rules that govern whether an entity should register.  The FARA Handbook can be read here.

Wiley Rein summer associate Tawanna Lee contributed to this blog post.