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Smuggling ring from Pakistan to US exposed in court

Smuggling ring from Pakistan to US exposed in court

WASHINGTON: A human smuggling ring that helped people from Pakistan and Afghanistan illegally enter the United States by way of Brazil and Latin America was publicly revealed as the ring’s Brasilia contact pleaded guilty in federal court in Washington on Wednesday.

Sharafat Ali Khan, 32, who US authorities said is a Pakistani national and permanent resident of Brazil, pleaded guilty to serving as a facilitator for dozens of people from Pakistan who contacted him in Brazil, paid $5,000 to $12,000 each, then walked through the Colombian jungle or travelled north by bus, foot and plane, according to court filings.

Khan pleaded guilty to a count of conspiracy to defraud the United States and to human smuggling for profit.

The trips he arranged were long, arduous and dangerous, court filings assert. “The average traveller took approximately nine months to get from Brazil all the way to the United States. During the voyage from Brazil through South and Central America, aliens were subjected to harsh conditions that caused a substantial risk of serious bodily injury or death,” the court records stated.

The charge against Khan carries a statutory maximum of five years in prison. But in a plea deal, both sides agreed that federal sentencing guidelines called for a range of 24 to 46 months and prosecutors agreed to seek no more than 37 months at sentencing on July 6 before US District Judge Reggie Walton.

“Are you entering this plea of guilty because you are in fact guilty?” Walton asked Khan, who appeared in court in prison orange clothing. “Yes sir,” said Khan.

Khan, who also used the pseudonym Dr Nakib, was arrested on July 14 in Washington after being extradited from Qatar, according to court documents. The circumstances of his arrest were not disclosed.

For the international case, prosecutors charged Khan under a statute that gives the District court in Washington jurisdiction over overseas defendants who are charged with certain offences abroad and have never lived in the United States.

“Khan is a well-known alien smuggler operating in Brazil,” Special Agent Frank Iervasi of US Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) said in a June 3 law enforcement affidavit filed to support Khan’s arrest.

Khan’s indictment cited only six smuggled individuals, but he allegedly was identified by name or photograph by about 81 foreign nationals who said he was the person who arranged their travel from Brazil between March 2014 through about May 2016, Iervasi wrote.

In court on Wednesday, Khan and the government stipulated in plea documents that the actual number of individuals was between 25 and 99.

ICE agent Iervasi wrote that recordings and electronic communications obtained by investigators, including some in Urdu, provided details of Khan’s smuggling activities, routes, fees, associates and payment methods.

The affidavit said the general route used by the smuggling operation went from Pakistan to Dubai, Brazil, Peru, Ecuador, Colombia, Panama, Costa Rica, Nicaragua, El Salvador, Guatemala and Mexico.

According to charging documents, several smuggled individuals said they were directed to Khan’s home or his telephone number, and some stayed in a house provided by Khan before further travel. Khan would tell the individuals to erase their phones or communications using his favoured WhatsApp Messenger instant messaging application, Iervasi wrote.

Another source told law enforcement that Khan works at an airport in Brazil, had many foreigners show up at his home looking for him, and kept foreign currencies and foreign documents of people from different countries “without any justification”, Iervasi said in his affidavit.

By arrangement with The Washington Post

Published in Dawn, April 14th, 2017

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