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Wednesday Apr 28 2021
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Lahore gold trader languishes in London prison

A man passing through European Court of Human Rights building.

LONDON: A Pakistani national and once a leading gold merchant is languishing in one of London’s notorious prisons for years in inhuman conditions awaiting a decision from the European Court of Human Rights on his appeal against a possible extradition to the US where he faces life without parole in prison if found guilty.

There is no case against Muhammad Asif Hafeez in the UK nor has he ever been charged for any wrongdoing in the country but is being held at the HMP Belmarsh prison - which houses some of the most dangerous local and foreign criminals involved in terrorism or deadly crimes.

He is held on the request of the US government after being arrested from his multi-million pounds Regent’s Park flat on 25 August 2017 over charges of conspiring to import heroin into the United States along with some Indian nationals from Kenya and others.

This correspondent has learnt in detail how Hafeez has been denied access to medicine and essential health care and how his family has been barred from seeing him in nearly three years now. Court papers reveal he suffers from multiple health disorders. Trusted sources say Hafeez’s health has deteriorated and he has collapsed several times, uncared for by the prison authorities ever since he was transferred to the southeast London facility.

Friends and family of Hafeez believe that the UK government has gone out of its way to torture him on instructions of the US authorities, especially after he took his extradition case to the ECHR. His sons, daughter and wife have not been allowed to meet him in years, first in Wandsworth prison and now in Belmarsh.

Sources says since been shifted to Belmarsh, Hafeez remains locked up for up to 23 hours a day and allowed out of his tiny cell only for an hour - badly impacting his health. However, after The News made inquiries from the Ministry of Justice, a Prison Service spokesman said: “These claims are untrue. The prisoner receives regular medical care, can leave his cell for several hours a day, and has frequent access to video and phone calls.” The spokesman added that Hafeez was being kept at Belmarsh, as the facility was “most suited to his security risk”.

Court papers say Hafeez is wanted for a trial in the USA for drug trafficking related offences and for conspiring to import heroin into the US, carrying a maximum penalty of life imprisonment. Hafeez denies all charges including that he was the “Sultan” of drugs.

Hafeez, 63, initially trained as a commercial pilot but later moved to Dubai to join the family’s gold business. He has been a donor of Princes Trust, Imran Khan’s Cancer Hospital and SOS Children charity.

Originally published in The News