Pak court acquits LeT, JuD leaders despite FATF’s call for targeting terror groups

Nov 07, 2021 07:37 PM IST

The Lahore high court set aside a counter-terrorism court’s conviction of six senior leaders of the LeT and JuD citing lack of ‘corroboratory evidence’

Weeks after the Financial Action Task Force (FATF) asked Pakistan to ensure its counter-terror financing probes are targeting commanders of UN-designated groups, a case against three key leaders of the Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) has collapsed due to an improper investigation.

Image for representation. (File photo)
Image for representation. (File photo)

The Lahore high court on Saturday set aside a counter-terrorism court’s conviction of six senior leaders of the LeT and its front organisation, Jamaat-ud-Dawah (JuD) on the grounds that the prosecution failed to prove the charge of terror financing against the men.

At the conclusion of its plenary meeting on October 21, FATF had retained Pakistan in its “grey list” and urged the country to do more to investigate and prosecute leaders and commanders of UN-designated terror groups involved in terror financing.

In April, an anti-terrorism court in Lahore had given a nine-year prison term to senior LeT and JuD leaders Malik Zafar Iqbal, Yahya Mujahid, Nasarullah, Samiullah and Umar Bahadur, and a six-month jail sentence to Abdul Rahman Makki, the brother-in-law of LeT founder Hafiz Saeed.

The Lahore high court set aside their conviction on Saturday and acquitted all six men, with an unnamed court official telling PTI news agency that the prosecution had failed to prove the charge against the men beyond any reasonable doubt. The court also observed that the statement of the prosecution’s star witness was not reliable as “there is no corroboratory evidence”.

In a statement issued at the conclusion of its plenary meeting, FATF had called on Pakistan to address as soon as possible the sole remaining item in its 27-point action plan to counter terror financing by “continuing to demonstrate that [terror financing] investigations and prosecutions target senior leaders and commanders of UN-designated terrorist groups”.

FATF president Marcus Pleyer had also said Pakistan has taken several important steps but still needs to demonstrate that probes and prosecutions are being pursued against the senior leadership of UN-designated terror groups.

Zafar Iqbal, a senior leader and co-founder of LeT, was designated by the UN Security Council in 2012 for being in-charge of the terror group’s finance department. The listing said Iqbal had travelled to Saudi Arabia with Saeed in 1989-1990 to request financial support from slain al-Qaeda chief Osama bin Laden.

Yahya Mujahid, a spokesperson for JuD, was listed by the UN Security Council in 2009 for his links with al-Qaeda, bin Laden and the Taliban, and for his role in financing, planning and facilitating the activities of LeT. Abdul Rahman Makki has been listed as a “specially designated national” by the US treasury department for his role as the second in command of LeT. The US has also offered a $2-million bounty for Makki.

People familiar with the matter said on condition of anonymity that Pakistan often arrests and charges leaders of terror groups such as LeT ahead of meetings of FATF to create the impression that it is cracking down on terror. Often, investigations in such cases are not thorough and cases are rushed through the lower courts, the people said.

Pakistan was added to FATF’s grey list in mid-2018 and given the 27-point action plan to control money laundering and terror financing. In June this year, FATF asked Pakistan to implement another seven-point action plan to address serious deficiencies related to money laundering.

Sameer Patil, fellow for international security studies at Gateway House, said, “Basically, Pakistan has done this sort of thing time and again. In the aftermath of the 2008 Mumbai attacks that were carried out by LeT, the initial dossier compiled by Pakistan’s Federal Investigation Agency showed the lackadaisical attitude towards investigations and collection of evidence.”

He added, “Pakistan indicted only LeT operations commander Zakiur Rehman Lakhvi but not the other key players in the Mumbai attacks. After every terror attack that comes in for global scrutiny, they engage in the facade of arresting some suspects, and once the pressure eases, it’s back to business as usual.”

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