Wednesday, November 25, 2020

European court halts extradition of suspected Pakistani drug lord Asif Hafeez

Muhammad Asif Hafeez — known as the ‘Sultan of Drugs’ — will be pleading his case to the European court next month

Mohammad Asif Hafeez in an interview with ITV's Ross Kemp. — Geo News/Screengrab

LONDON: The European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) has effectively halted the extradition to the United States of Pakistani national Muhammad Asif Hafeez who has been charged with the alleged import and production of drugs.

Legal sources have said that Hafeez — known as the ‘Sultan of Drugs’ — will be pleading his case to the European court next month, arguing why it should permanently halt his extradition to the US, where he faces a sentence of life without parole.

Edward Fitzgerald, Hafeez’s lawyer, said that he obtained a Rule 39 indication from the European Court in the case on the basis of two considerations: (i) that he faced a sentence of life without parole in the US and (ii) that there was a real risk that conditions in the federal detention centres were inhuman, particularly in the light of the coronavirus outbreak.

On January 11, 2019, the Westminster Magistrates’ Court ordered the UK Home Secretary to extradite Hafeez to America but he appealed to the London High Court against the district judge’s decision. On January 31, 2020, the London High Court dismissed his appeal.

In its judgment of January 31, 2020, the High Court of England and Wales found that Hafeez’s extradition would not involve a violation of Article 3 on account of a possible sentence of life imprisonment without parole being imposed on him in the US, nor of conditions of detention in that country".

The charges against Asif Hafeez

Asif Hafeez, 63, was arrested in London in August 2017 by the National Crime Agency (NCA) on the request of the US Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) and lodged in the high security Belmarsh.

The charges in respect of which his extradition is sought are as follows, according to a statement of facts published by ECHR:

1. Conspiracy to import heroin into the United States of America

2. Conspiracy to import methamphetamine and hashish into the United States of America;

3. Aiding and abetting the manufacture/distribution of heroin knowing and intending that it would be imported into the United States of America.

Hafeez, originally from Lahore, is alleged to be the head of an organisation spanning Europe, Africa, Asia and North America, that produced and smuggled drugs.

“[The] Sultan trafficked in drugs on a massive and global scale, working with transnational criminal organisations to manufacture and distribute enormous quantities of heroin and methamphetamine [crystal meth] around the world and the United States. From Kenya and Mozambique to London and New York, Hafeez’s alleged drug operation saw no borders or boundaries – until now,” US Attorney Joon H Kim was quoted by Daily Mail as saying.

The US alleges that Hafeez conspired with Akasha Organisation in Africa, led by brothers Baktash Akasha Abdalla and Ibrahim Akasha Abdalla — who have already been extradited to the US — for heroin production and smuggling and set up a special laboratory in Mozambique.

According to Daily Mail, the DEA alleges that Indian nationals Vicky Goswami and his wife Mamta Kulkarni — a well-known Bollywood actress — were also part of Hafeez’s gang and ran a factory in India to manufacture ephedrine, the active ingredient in methamphetamine.