Thursday Jan 28, 2021
LONDON: The Westminster Magistrates’ Court has ordered the extradition of Abraaj founder and renowned Pakistani businessman Arif Masood Naqvi to face charges of fraud, money-laundering and racketeering which carry, in total, 300 years in prison.
Senior District Judge Emma Arbuthnot ordered that the Pakistani businessman be extradited to the US and that his safety and rights will not be at risk in the US jails as argued by Naqvi’s lawyer during the extradition hearings.
Naqvi expressed no emotions when the decision was read out. His lawyer will appeal against the extradition at the London High Court. He didn’t speak to media when he arrived at the court with his lawyers ahead of the decision.
Naqvi is accused of 16 counts of fraud and related money laundering said to have been committed between 2014 and 2018. The American government has described him as the “leader of a criminal enterprise that courted Abraaj.”
The judge noted in her decision that the alleged fraud started unravelling in September 2017 when an anonymous email was sent to some of the investors.
Funds were also said to have been used to bribe a politician in Pakistan to obtain approval for the sale of Abraaj’s stake in an electrical energy utility company, according to the judgment released by the Ministry of Justice.
The judge accepted that Naqvi has mental health issues and this deteriorated during the extradition proceedings at Westminster.
The judge rejected almost all grounds relied on by the legal team of the Pakistani businessman and wrote that she was satisfied with the assurances given by the US administration that Naqvi will have the right to a fair trial; his human rights will not be impacted and he will be provided a reasonably safe environment to live in.
She ruled: “The burden on the defence is less than on the balance of probabilities but the risk must be more than fanciful. The prosecution and defence rely on different authorities but there is no dispute that the burden of establishing the real risk lies on Arif Naqvi.”
The judge accepted that there are gangs in some if not all of the housing units and that there are leadership issues in some jails. “I accept that there are some bad apples amongst the correctional officers and there is also some violence amongst the prisoners. Finally, I accept that the prison is having the same trouble with Covid that each prison in every country is having, staff are off with Covid or self-isolating which is causing a staff shortage.”
The judge noted she was satisfied that Naqvi "will live in a special dormitory reserved not just for Federal inmates but for those who are aged 50 and over and have no disciplinary issues”.
She said she didn’t accept that the gangs in that unit would be able to threaten Naqvi with impunity or be allowed to flourish. She said the US soil is the right forum for Naqvi to stand trial in and not London as Naqvi held Abraaj meetings in the US “when misrepresentations to the investments were made” and “harm was caused to the US investors”.
The decision comes weeks after a similar request for Wikileaks founder Julian Assange was blocked by Judge Vanessa Baraitser.
The US request to extradite Assange was blocked on basis of the 49-year-old Australian editor's deteriorating physical and mental health conditions, with District Judge Vanessa Baraitser saying she refused the request due to "fears that he could commit suicide".
Naqvi's lawyers have publicly stated during the proceedings before the chief magistrate, Senior District Judge Emma Arbuthnot, that his case is similar.
Judge Baraitser had ruled at the Old Bailey court on January 4, 2021, that Assange could not be extradited to the US due to risks pertaining to his mental health and took notice to the submissions by the editor's lawyers in relation to increased concerns that came to light in recent years over prison conditions at the US facilities.
Several expert witnesses had appeared during the Arif Naqvi case proceedings to testify before the judge about conditions at the US prison facilities where the Pakistani businessperson would likely be held.
Naqvi has through his lawyers continued to strongly protest the 300-year sentence.