Pakistani ‘spy’-accused in major SA-linked drugs case stumbles in bid to halt UK extradition to US
Muhammad Asif Hafeez of Pakistan is jailed in the UK and wanted in the US in a sprawling drugs case to which South Africa is central. He claimed to be an informant for the US — which that government denied — and has now failed in a court bid to quash an order to extradite him there.
An inmate in a London jail may hold key secrets about South Africa’s drug trade — an arena in which the names of high-level politicians have crossed the lips of a convict who has operated globally.
The inmate, Muhammad Asif Hafeez, of Pakistan, is wanted in the US for heroin importation and authorities there have alleged he is also known as the “big boss,” “the Sultan” and the “number one in the world” for heroin and hashish smuggling.
Hafeez is accused in a US case linked to Mandrax merchant Vicky Goswami, of India, who was previously based in South Africa.
Read more in Daily Maverick: Clash of the Cartels – revealing the global organised crime networks that exist right under your nose
Goswami once reportedly claimed to have given money in the fight against apartheid and to know ANC politicians — he was once photographed with former president Nelson Mandela.
Drug trade domination
In 2019 Goswami testified in the US that he and his allies were hellbent on dominating South Africa’s drug trade, even masterminding the murder in this country of someone they viewed as a rival.
DM168 this week reported on how there are alleged overlaps between those who operated in the same arena as Goswami and State Capture circles in South Africa.
Goswami was arrested in Kenya in 2014 and extradited to the US in 2017 where it appears he turned state witness in a major drugs case.
Hafeez was arrested in the UK in 2017 and it ordered his extradition to the US in 2019.
He fought this.
Part of attempts to avoid being sent to the US involved turning to the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) where issues including his health and poor US prison conditions were focused on.
But on 20 April 2023, Hafeez was dealt a legal blow — the ECHR found his application to quash the UK’s extradition order was inadmissible.
Spy versus deflection
The ECHR decision about Hafeez, which Daily Maverick has seen, shows he had claimed to be an informant to the US government and that if jailed there, his life would be at risk because of his spy status.
However, the ECHR stated that a UK court found: “The US Government did not consider him an informant and therefore he could not ‘take advantage of a status which he does not have’.”
It was also found that while Hafeez may have been in contact with law enforcement agencies, a UK district judge “did not consider that he had done so out of a sense of moral duty.”
“Rather,” the ECHR decision said, “he was someone who had brought to the attention of the authorities the criminal conduct of others who he knew to be actual or potential rivals to his substantial criminal enterprise.”
The decision about Hafeez’s extradition appeal may mean he is a step closer to being forced to go to the US where he faces drug-related charges.
Mandrax for SA
According to the US, Hafeez allegedly operated in the same circles as Goswami and Goswami’s co-accused, two brothers from Kenya, Baktash Akasha Abdalla and Ibrahim Akasha Abdalla, who were previously extradited and sentenced to jail time in the US.
The Akasha brothers were part of a criminal syndicate known as the Akasha Organisation.
A 2019 US Department of Justice statement alleged that in early 2014 the Akashas and some allies had worked to import tons of methaqualone, used to make Mandrax, “into Africa in order to fuel the illicit pills’ production in South Africa”.
It also accused the group of using proceeds from that business to import into Africa ephedrine that was being illegally produced in a factory in India.
Ephedrine can be used to manufacture crystal methamphetamine, also known as tik.
Meth in Mozambique
This is where Hafeez fits in.
The 2019 US Justice Department statement said the Akasha brothers aligned themselves to Hafeez and together they worked “to establish a methamphetamine-production facility in Mozambique.”
But this plan was foiled when a raid was carried out at the factory in India and tons of ephedrine they planned to use was confiscated.
In 2019 while testifying in court in the US, Goswami referred to the facility in Mozambique and alleged Hafeez had been part of this venture.
That same year, 2019, Vrye Weekblad reported that Goswami also alleged, in sealed grand jury testimony in the US, that members of the Gupta family were involved in money laundering on behalf of Hafeez.
Nothing publicly came of that.
Earlier in April this year, Gupta brothers Atul and Rajesh, wanted in South Africa in connection with State Capture crimes, were freed from Dubai in a move that surprised the South African government that was pushing for their extradition.
Money laundering and ‘Mo Dollars’
This week DM168 reported how allegations involving the Guptas and Goswami extended deeper into criminal circles.
In news television channel Al Jazeera’s investigative unit four-part series Gold Mafia, which was recently released, it was alleged that a man named Mohamed Khan, also known as Mo Dollars, was one of South Africa’s most prolific money launders.
It was alleged Khan knew former president Jacob Zuma so well that Zuma had been to his home.
Khan, it was also alleged, managed companies and laundered money on behalf of members of the Gupta family — this was like the claim Goswami reportedly made about the Guptas allegedly laundering money on behalf of Hafeez.
Most wanted terrorist
Dawood Ibrahim, one of India’s most wanted terror suspects, who during the 1990s was believed to be moving through South Africa and was under investigation for Mandrax smuggling, also surfaced in Gold Mafia.
Khan’s brother Dawood was filmed in an episode saying that together with another money launderer, he and Khan had met a man he later realised was Ibrahim in a Sandton hotel around 2011.
Khan denied all the allegations against him.
Some of those allegations suggested he connected the Guptas and Zuma to Ibrahim, or in other words, that he connected the nucleus of State Capture in South Africa to a global terror suspect.
Read more in Daily Maverick: ‘Global terrorist’ Dawood Ibrahim’s lasting grip on South Africa
Meanwhile, both Hafeez and Goswami seem to be linked to Ibrahim.
Some media reports suggested the US was targeting Hafeez to get to Ibrahim.
In the case of Goswami, he told a US court in 2019 that it was incorrect that Ibrahim was one of his main drug rivals.
If Hafeez is extradited to the US, he may be asked in a court there about Goswami and Ibrahim — and South Africa. DM