European court rejects Asif Hafeez’s appeal against extradition to US

Pakistani businessman Muhammad Asif Hafeez. — Provided by the reporter 

LONDON: The European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) has turned down Pakistani businessman Muhammad Asif Hafeez’s appeal against extradition to the USA on several charges related to alleged drugs and narcotics importation.

Hafeez, who has been held in London’s high-security Belmarsh prison since August 2017, had taken his case to the European court in March 2020 after exhausting all his appeals at UK’s legal forums.

The former trained commercial pilot and gold merchant from Lahore — who has been described as “big boss”, “the Sultan” and the “number one in the world” for heroin and hashish in the US charges — had complained at the European court that his extradition would violate his rights under Article 3 of the Convention, due to the risk that he would be sentenced to life imprisonment without parole, the risk of detention in inhuman and degrading conditions, and the high risk of COVID-19 in the US prison estate. 

Under Article 6 of the Convention, Hafeez had complained that he would likely be tried on evidence obtained from the alleged co-conspirators (Indian national Vicky Goswami and Akasha brothers) who had been unlawfully “rendered” to the US from Kenya after the US took them out against the local court orders.

The court papers available with Geo News show that the ECHR judges have unanimously rejected Hafeez’s application against extradition under Article 3 of the Convention for being “manifestly ill-founded”.

On Hafeez’s contention of his extradition is against Article 6 of the Convention, the court ruled that the article arises exceptionally where an individual risks suffering a flagrant denial of justice in the requesting country but in the particular case no such evidence was adduced. 

The ECHR said: “Neither the District Judge nor the High Court found evidence of any unlawful behaviour on the part of the US authorities. In addition, the District Judge was not satisfied with the evidence before him that one, or potentially more than one, of the applicant’s co-conspirators might wish to and/or proceed to give evidence against him. Even if they did, there is no reason to doubt that the applicant would have the benefit of legal counsel and that it would be open to him to challenge the admissibility of any evidence relied upon by the prosecution. That being the case, he cannot be said to have satisfied the burden of proof required to demonstrate a real risk of a flagrant denial of justice if he were to be extradited to the US.”

While discontinuing the application by Asif Hafeez as inadmissible, the European court has ruled that “the applicant’s complaints under Article 6 of the Convention must be rejected as manifestly ill-founded, in accordance with Article 35 of the Convention”.

Hafeez was arrested in London around six years ago on Washington’s request, charged with conspiracy to import heroin into the US; conspiracy to import methamphetamine and hashish into the US; and aiding and abetting the manufacture/distribution of heroin knowing and intending that it would be imported into the US. He denies all charges and has said he is a victim of a wider US conspiracy. His lawyers have presented evidence in the court that Hafeez actually worked as a credible informant for the spy agencies and law enforcement of the USA, UK, Pakistan and UAE and helped bust several drug import shipments.

After his arrest in London, the first extradition hearing was conducted by Westminster Magistrates Court in mid-2018 where Hafeez’s lawyers argued it was a breach his rights under Article 3 of the Convention because there was a real risk that pre-trial and post-conviction detention in the US would be inhuman and degrading; and there was a real risk that he would be sentenced to life imprisonment without the possibility of parole. The US lawyers countered during a lengthy trial that Hafeez’s rights will not be breached.

The US government has been battling to extradite Hafeez from Britain’s highest security Belmarsh Prison to a jail in New York after snatching Kenya’s Akasha brothers — Baktash Akasha Abdalla, Ibrahim Akasha Abdalla — Bollywood star Mamta Kalkarni’s husband Vicky Goswami and Ghulam Hussein from Kenyan soil in violation of the local court orders and turning Goswami into a witness against the Pakistani national, court papers show.

Kenya’s once-powerful Akasha brothers, Goswami and Hussein were first arrested by the Kenya Anti-Narcotics Unit on November 9, 2014, in Mombasa on a request from the US government alleging conspiracy to import drugs into the US but they were soon released on bail.

Around Jan 23, 2017, all four were arrested by the Kenyan authorities in a sudden operation and within a week — without authorisation of extradition from any local court and without the due process being followed — the four accused were flown out of Kenya and produced before New York’s Southern District Court where charges were read out against them and a new superseding charge was added which alleged that in Kenya the four bribed the local officials to prevent their extradition.

Both Akasha brothers, who have been convicted and imprisoned in the US, have refused to indict Hafeez, maintaining that he didn’t do any drugs dealing with them and that the charges against him are false and fabricated.

A former Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) and Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) agent Kamran Faridi has said in a statement to Hafeez’s lawyers that his handlers at the FBI asked him many times to trap Hafeez while he was working on an entrapment mission targeting Karachi businessman Jabir Motiwala and Dawood Ibrahim.

Milesh Tareja, a veteran spy who has worked for both US and Australian agencies, has said in a written statement that his US handlers spoke to him about Hafeez and Dawood Ibrahim.

Court papers show that Hafeez had been under the US scanner since at least 2004. Ommer Faruke Kolia, a British national of Indian origin from Leicester, detailed his story in a written witness statement on Feb 19, 2018, sent to Hafeez’s lawyers in London. Kolia died in highly mysterious circumstances four months later on June 21, 2018.

Kolia wrote in his witness statement: “Mr Hafeez had no connection to the hashish shipment in Greece and had no knowledge that I was even in Greece at the time of his call. His call was entirely coincidental. Hafeez was not mentioned in the entire interrogation and proceedings and had no involvement in the deal.”

Kolia was sentenced to 16 years imprisonment on the charge of 6.5 tonnes of hashish imported into Greece from Pakistan. He was released after serving six years and five months in jail in Athens. Before his mysterious death, Kolia insisted that Hafeez actually asked him many times to stop being involved in the drug trade and had nothing to do with the Greece shipment plot.

Kamran Faridi, who worked as a spy for the US authorities for over two decades, has also provided a statement to the lawyers of Hafeez. He says in the statement that his bosses at FBI and DEA would often ask him to trap Hafeez.

The American government says it has secretly recorded statements of Baktash Akasha, Goswami and Hussain confirming Hafeez’s participation in the heroin deal and Hafeez’s 2015 text message to Goswami showing Hafeez was concerned about US law enforcement targeting him based on his participation in the transaction following the arrests in Kenya of Baktash Akasha, Ibrahim Akasha, Goswami, and Hussain.

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