Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan may be forced to register as an agent of Libya and Iran--or pay the consequences, Justice Department officials said Thursday.
Atty. Gen. Janet Reno told reporters that her department "will review everything" about the controversial minister's recent 18-nation tour of African and Middle Eastern nations. Farrakhan has not responded to a department letter sent to him last month suggesting that he may be seeking to exert influence on behalf of those two terrorist countries.
"This is a matter that the department is focused on, from my office on down," Reno said of an internal inquiry into whether Farrakhan must register.
The U.S. Foreign Agents Registration Act requires Americans who try to influence U.S. policy on behalf of foreign entities, and who receive payments from foreign governments, to file periodic reports on their activities with the Justice Department. Such reports are open to public scrutiny, and agents must maintain books and financial records that the department may examine.
Failure to register or filing false reports may subject an offender to a five-year prison term or a maximum fine of $10,000, or both, officials said.
On his stop in Tripoli, Farrakhan reportedly received a pledge of $1 billion from Libyan strongman Moammar Kadafi. Diplomatic sources said he obtained $5 million from Iranian leaders.
A spokesman for the Chicago-based Nation of Islam declined to answer questions about the matter Thursday. Farrakhan's tour last month provoked condemnation from the State Department because he publicly denounced U.S. policies while meeting with leaders such as Kadafi and Iraq's Saddam Hussein.
During his tour of Muslim-ruled countries, Farrakhan was quoted as declaring: "You can quote me: God will destroy America by the hands of Muslims." He also expressed sympathy for Egyptian Sheik Omar Abdel Rahman, who was sentenced to life in prison by a federal judge in New York earlier this year for helping sponsor the 1993 World Trade Center bombing and for plotting other acts of domestic sabotage.
Farrakhan was quoted as saying that he would enjoy sharing a jail cell with the blind Egyptian cleric if the government prosecutes him for his travels.
State Department spokesman Nicholas Burns called Farrakhan's reported remarks "shameful [for] an American citizen, much less a major religious leader" and said that he should not "cavort with dictators like Kadafi and the Iranian leadership."
Farrakhan, who often has alienated other black leaders and Jewish groups with extremist statements, enhanced his national reputation last year by staging the much-publicized Million Man March on Washington.
Rep. Peter T. King (R-N.Y.), who has called for a congressional investigation of Farrakhan's recent activities, has written Reno to inquire whether any federal laws were violated. King noted in his letter that Iran has funded international terrorism, including acts by Hamas, the organization that has claimed responsibility for bombings in Israel.
Although prosecutions for failure to register as a foreign agent have been rare, there have been some celebrated cases. While Jimmy Carter was president, a Justice Department investigation forced his brother, Billy Carter, to register as an agent of Libya, disclosing that he had received more than $220,000 from Kadafi.
Times staff writer Ronald J. Ostrow contributed to this story.