A U.S. court has sentenced an Afghan national with ties to the Taliban to life in prison for conspiring to distribute heroin in the United States and for using drug proceeds to fund, arm and supply the Taliban, the Justice Department announced on Tuesday.
The sentencing of Haji Bagcho, a large scale drug trafficker, was jointly announced by Assistant Attorney-General Lanny A. Breuer of the Justice Department's Criminal Division and Administrator Michele M. Leonhart of the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA).
According to them, Bagcho was sentenced to life on drug trafficking and narco-terrorism charges by U.S. District Judge Ellen S. Huvelle in the District of Columbia earlier on Tuesday. In addition to his prison term, Bagcho was ordered to forfeit $254,203,032 in drug proceeds along with his property in Afghanistan.
"Haji Bagcho led a massive drug production and trafficking operation that supplied heroin in more than 20 countries, including the United States. In 2006 alone, he conducted heroin transactions worth more than $250 million. Bagcho used the profits of his narcotics trafficking operation to support high-level Taliban commanders in Afghanistan. Today's life sentence is an appropriate punishment for one of the most notorious heroin traffickers in the world," said Assistant Attorney-General Breuer.
"This is DEA at its finest, working in close collaboration with our Afghan partners to end the long reign of this Afghan drug lord whose drug proceeds financed terror. One of the world's most prolific drug traffickers who helped fund the Taliban will spend his remaining days behind bars in a U.S. prison due to the relentless efforts of DEA, our Afghan counterparts and our prosecuting partners," added DEA Administrator Leonhart.
After a three-week trial, Bagcho was convicted by a jury on March 13, 2012, of one count of conspiracy to distribute one kilogram or more of heroin, knowing and intending that it would be unlawfully imported into the United States; one count of distribution of one kilogram or more of heroin knowing and intending that it would be unlawfully imported into the United States; and one count of narco-terrorism.
Bagcho's trial was only the second under the narco-terrorism statute since its enactment in 2006. He was charged in a superseding indictment on January 28, 2010, after his arrest and extradition to the United States from Afghanistan in May 2009.
The DEA, in cooperation with their Afghan counterparts, conducted the investigation, which revealed that Bagcho was one of the largest heroin traffickers in the world and manufactured the drug in clandestine laboratories along Afghanistan's border region with Pakistan.
According to information presented at trial, Bagcho, who had been operating his heroin business since at least the 1990s, sent the drug to more than 20 countries, including the United States. Proceeds from his heroin trafficking were then used to support high-level members of the Taliban in furtherance of their insurgency in Afghanistan.
Evidence presented during the trial indicated that Bagcho's activities during 2006 alone amounted to heroin transactions totaling more than 123,000 kilograms, worth more than $250 million. Based on heroin production statistics compiled by the United Nations Office of Drugs and Crime for 2006, the defendant's trafficking accounted for approximately 20 percent of the total amount of heroin produced worldwide that year.
The evidence also established that Bagcho used a portion of his drug proceeds to provide cash, weapons and other supplies to the former Taliban governor of Nangarhar Province and two Taliban commanders responsible for insurgent activity in eastern Afghanistan, so that they could continue their "jihad" against western troops and the Afghan government.
Afghanistan accounts for almost 90 per cent of the world's total production of opium, the main ingredient in heroin. NATO has already said that the revenue generated by illegal opium trade is fueling the Taliban insurgency in the country.
by RTT Staff Writer
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