Hafiz Saeed gets 5.5 years in prison over terror funding
The verdict came four days before the Financial Action Task Force’s (FATF) plenary meeting in Paris to assess action taken by Pakistan to counter terror financing and money laundering.Updated: Feb 13, 2020 00:23 IST
Lashkar-e-Taiba founder Hafiz Saeed was on Wednesday convicted by a court in Lahore and given a five-and-a-half year prison term in two terror financing cases – the first time the US-designated terrorist has been held guilty by the Pakistani judiciary.
Singnificantly, the verdict came four days before the Financial Action Task Force’s (FATF) plenary meeting in Paris to assess action taken by Pakistan to counter terror financing and money laundering. Pakistan has been keen to get off the so-called grey list of the organisation set up to combat terror financing and money laundering.
Saeed, who was detained last July, can appeal against the ruling in higher courts.
Anti-terrorism court judge Arshad Hussain Bhatta ruled that the five-and-a-half year prison terms given to Saeed in both cases would run concurrently and also fined him ~15,000 in the two cases.
In both cases, Saeed was convicted under Section 11-F(2) of the Anti-Terrorism Act for being a member of a proscribed organisation, which entails a maximum prison term of six months, and Section 11-N for facilitating fund-raising by terror groups, for which he was given five years in jail.
Saeed was present in court when the judge read out the verdict. The judge directed authorities to keep Saeed in custody until further orders.
Malik Zafar Iqbal, one of Saeed’s close aides, was convicted in the same cases and awarded similar punishment.
Saeed, 69, for whom the US has offered a bounty of $10 million, has been detained without charge several times since the 2008 Mumbai attacks, but has never been formally charged or prosecuted in Pakistani courts. US and Indian officials have accused him of a key role in masterminding the 2008 Mumbai attacks, which killed 166 people.
Saeed recorded his statement in court and pleaded “not guilty”.
The terror financing cases were registered against him in several cities by the Counter Terrorism Department (CTD) of Punjab province.
He claimed the Pakistan government was being pressured by India and the US to file “false” cases against him, and asked the court to quash the First Information Report (FIR) against him.
Pakistani authorities have refrained from acting against the LeT and Jamaat-ud-Dawa (JuD, a front for the LeT) for years but they finally banned all groups headed by Saeed last year because of mounting pressure from the FATF and Western powers.
The FATF placed Pakistan in its grey list in 2018 and several reports by the multilateral watchdog have highlighted the country’s repeated failure to stop fund-raising by groups such as LeT, Jaish-e-Mohammed, Taliban, Haqqani Network and al-Qaeda.
Continued inaction by the country could place it on the black list which wouldlead to harsher financial sanctions and closer scrutiny of all financial and banking transactions.
Saeed was arrested by the CTD last July after 23 cases were registered against him and 12 aides, including his brother-in-law Abdul Rehman Makki, in Lahore, Gujranwala, Multan, Faisalabad and Sargodha.
They were accused of using a network of trusts and non-profit organisations to collect funds for terrorism.
This was the first time Saeed was directly named in a case registered against the LeT and its front organisations for involvement in terrorism. The cases named trusts and organisations such as Dawat ul Irshad Trust, Muaz Bin Jabal Trust, Al-Anfaal Trust, Al Hamd Trust, and Al Madina Foundation Trust.
The CTD said the accused gathered “assets from funds of terrorism financing (and) held and used these assets to raise more funds for further terrorism financing”.
The assets and organisations of the LeT and JuD were also taken over by the government in compliance with UN sanctions.
The last review conducted by the FATF in October 2019 concluded that Pakistan will have to take “extra measures” to stop terror financing and money laundering.
The FATF meetings beginning in Paris on February 16 will assess Pakistan’s implementation of a 27-point action plan.
Western diplomats expect Pakistan to be retained in the FATF’s grey list as it has fully or partially complied with only 14 of the points in the action plan