Irvine mayoral candidate Farrah Khan is under investigation for allegedly accepting a gift from a foreign government, the State of California Fair Political Practices Commission (FPPC) has confirmed.
The investigation comes less than two weeks before the Nov. 3 election, and is the latest in a series of controversies and scandals that have erupted in the city council and mayoral elections in Irvine, California.
City council candidate Mark Newgent alleges in his complaint filed with FPPC that Khan accepted an offer from the Republic of Azerbaijan to pay for her trip to Baku, Azerbaijan, in late April 2019 to attend the 5th World Forum on Intercultural Dialogue.
“I became alarmed for several reasons,” Newgent wrote in his complaint. “City council member Kahn’s conduct appears to be a clear violation of the Political Reform Act’s Gift provisions. More importantly—as a retired army captain and decorated Anti-Terrorism Officer—I can tell you from experience that taking money from hostile foreign governments—such as Azerbaijan—is often an indicator of subversive activity.”
“Aside from the Gift violations, as an American, veteran and City of Irvine resident, I find it quite disturbing that Council Member Khan would accept an invitation to such an event knowing that she would be sharing the stage with Iranian government officials—and that the event would be covered by the Iran Press Agency,” Newgent stated.
The event was organized by the Republic of Azerbaijan in cooperation with the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) and other international organizations.
The FPPC letter dated Oct. 22 is signed by Galena West, FPPC’s enforcement chief, and states that the FPPC is investigating the claim, but has not made a determination about the validity of the allegations.
Khan said in a statement to The Epoch Times that Newgent “knows it’s easy to mislead people with unfounded allegations. These days, you don’t even need a postage stamp to file an FPPC complaint. There are no consequences when the complaint is unfounded, but in the meantime you create the appearance of wrongdoing.”
She said she attended the forum as a private citizen, not in an official capacity, because it “was an extraordinary opportunity to be part of a conference highlighting the importance of intercultural and interfaith dialogue and creating a more just world—interests I am proud to support.”
“To help with expenses, I applied for and received a grant for travel costs which I publicly reported. That’s it. No corruption,” she said.
She called the insinuation that she isn’t loyal to America “a racist dog-whistle.”
“I’m a proud American and a proud resident of Irvine whose raised my children to act with integrity and respect everyone, regardless of gender, race, religion, color, national origin or even political affiliation,” she said.
Newgent said Khan reported that on April 29, 2019, she accepted gifts totaling $1,693 from the Republic of Azerbaijan on her Form 700 Statement of Economic Interests filed on March 11, 2020. Under federal law, elected officials are prohibited from accepting gifts directly or indirectly from foreign governments, or gifts from any single source of more than $500 in a single calendar year.
Irvine Mayor Christina Shea told The Epoch Times that Councilmember Melissa Fox was also invited by the Azerbaijan government to attend the event, but declined the offer. “I know that they had invited Melissa Fox, and she was very uncomfortable, because they have been warned about taking foreign money.”
Fox could not immediately be reached for comment.
When Khan returned, she discussed the trip at a May, 2019, council meeting, but Shea was under the impression Khan had gone on a personal trip related to involvement in an interfaith group in Orange County. “I did not have any understanding that this foreign government was paying her.”
“This is very odd, because she was invited as an elected official from Irvine. She had only been holding office for three months, and she went to this foreign country. What she spoke about, I have no idea,” Shea said. “She was not authorized to go … and she did not get any city approval. The bottom line is, what she took was inappropriate.”
Anila Ali, a self-described moderate Muslim, who ran unsuccessfully against Khan for city council in 2016, told The Epoch Times that Khan is backed by the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) and CAIR PAC, its political action committee. Ali claims that Khan and other CAIR supporters have harassed her over her support of Israel and women’s rights.
Ali also ran as a Democrat in California’s 74th State Assembly district in 2014. She is a schoolteacher in Los Angeles, who once taught in Irvine.
Khan declined to comment on Ali’s allegations.
Several years ago, former President Barack Obama asked Ali to speak at the White House and implement his Countering Violent Extremism Task Force policy. Ali said Khan “and her CAIR activist friends” tried to prevent her from speaking at Democratic events.
Although Khan has been endorsed by the Democratic Party and was the first Muslim elected to Irvine City Council, Ali doesn’t support her.
“I don’t think she is a true Democrat, just like she told me I’m not a true Muslim,” said Ali. “If she’s really working for Azerbaijan, I want to know, because I have Armenian friends.”
The Trump administration has “waded cautiously into international efforts to halt fighting between Armenia and Azerbaijan,” the Associated Press reported on Oct. 23. The two former Soviet republics are engaged in their worst conflict in more than 25 years over the disputed territory of Nagorno-Karabakh.
This article has been updated to include a statement from Councilmember Farrah Khan received after initial publication.