UK reprieve for Pakistan’s ‘Sultan’ of drugs with India link
A British Pakistani known as ‘Sultan’ in an international drug procurement and distribution syndicate who sourced ephedrine (a commonly abused drug used as a stimulant) from India was on Friday allowed to appeal against his extradition to the United States to face charges of attempting to import heroin.
Muhammad Asif Hafeez, 61, was arrested in London in 2017 by Britain’s National Crime Agency (NCA) and US Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) and lodged in the high security Belmarsh prison in the drug trafficking case also involving an Indian national Vijay Goswami.
After the Westminster Magistrates Court cleared his extradition, he appealed in the high court against the home secretary’s subsequent approval to the order.
Justice William Davis and Lord Justice Hamblen of the high court of England and Wales dismissed various grounds to block extradition, but said they had been persuaded that if extradited, he would face life imprisonment without parole, which would potentially violate his human rights.
According to court documents, the DEA between 2014 and 2017 conducted an investigation into proposed importation of drugs into the US, the geographical centre of the investigation being Kenya.
In the course of that investigation, the DEA’s co-operating sources were used to contact a man named Baktash Akasha (sentenced to 25 years in US jail in August 2019). The sources posed as Columbian drug traffickers wishing to obtain heroin for importation into the US.
They had various discussions with Akasha during the autumn of 2014 during which he apparently agreed to obtain heroin. He told the sources that his supplier was from Pakistan and went by various pseudonyms, one of which was ‘Sultan’.
Akasha was part of a criminal group which included his brother, Ibrahim, Vijay Goswami and Ghulam Hussein. In October 2014, 98 kilos of heroin were delivered to the sources, the delivery was organised by the four men in conjunction with ‘Sultan’.
In November 2014, the four men were arrested in Kenya, but were later released on bail before being handed over to DEA. The US Government said ‘Sultan’ was later identified as Muhammad Hafeez.
The US Government’s case is that Goswami agreed with Hafeez to set up a factory to manufacture methamphetamine. The proposal was for the factory to be in Mozambique. Methamphetamine is a powerful, highly addictive drug abused for recreational purposes and is popularly known as blue, crystal, ice and meth.
“A precursor chemical element in the manufacture of methamphetamine is ephedrine. In 2016 authorities in India seized a very large quantity of ephedrine from a factory in Solapur in India, this said to have been intended for use in the factory in Mozambique. The intended destination of the methamphetamine, once produced, was said to be the United States,” the judgement noted.
Hafeez is reported to have had links with Bollywood actors and members of the royal family in Britain.
To reinforce its Indo-Pacific strategy, and in what is being seen as a response to China's aggressive outreach to Pacific Island states, the United States (US) - along with Australia, New Zealand, United Kingdom and Japan - announced a new Partners in Blue Pacific initiative on Friday. This month, China's foreign minister, Wang Yi, also undertook an eight country tour in the region and hosted a China-Pacific Island Countries Foreign Ministers Meeting in Fiji.
Russia's army has “fully occupied” the key Ukrainian city of Severodonetsk after weeks of fighting, its mayor said on Saturday, an important strategic win for Moscow as it seeks to gain full control over the east of the country. The industrial hub of Severodonetsk has been the scene of weeks of running battles, but the Ukrainian army said on Friday that its outgunned forces would withdraw to better defend the neighbouring city of Lysychansk.
President Joe Biden criticised the US Supreme Court for making “terrible decisions”, a day after it struck down the constitutional right to abortion. Biden commented during a signing ceremony on Saturday for gun safety bill he supports, though he continued to sidestep questions about reforms to the court sought by some Democrats. He didn't respond to other questions, such as on court or filibuster reform, before heading off to Europe for international summits.
Ukraine's Severodonetsk was "fully occupied" by the Russian army, its mayor said on Saturday, after weeks of fighting over the key eastern city. The Ukrainian army on Friday said it would withdraw its forces from the city of some 100,000 inhabitants before the war to better defend the neighbouring city of Lysychansk. Mayor Oleksandr Striuk said civilians had started to evacuate the Azot chemical plant, where several hundred people had been hiding from Russian shelling.
Ukraine said it came under "massive bombardment" Saturday from neighbouring Belarus, a Russian ally not officially involved in the conflict, the day after announcing a retreat from the strategic city of Severodonetsk. Belarus has provided logistic support to Moscow since the February 24 invasion, particularly in the first few weeks, and like Russia has been targeted by Western sanctions -- but is officially not involved in the conflict.