ISLAMABAD: A Senate panel was informed on Tuesday that the ground staff at Heathrow airport was also part of a recently-busted drug smuggling racket that was illegally transporting heroin to the UK through the national flag carrier.

The Senate Standing Committee on Interior, which met with Senator Rehman Malik in the chair, was told by Anti-Narcotics Force (ANF) officials that the ground staff at Heathrow airport was complicit in taking the smuggled heroin out of the airport and said this information had already been shared with UK authorities.

The meeting was told that the ANF chief would be heading to UK next week to exchange vital information.

ANF Brigadier Basharat Malik said the drug smuggling ring on the Pakistani side had been unearthed, adding that the director general’s upcoming visit would help bust the racket in the UK. He also alluded to a meeting between ANF officials and UK’s National Crime Agency, where some important information was shared.

ANF official briefs Senate body on cooperation with UK authorities; FIA chief tells senators 14 FIRs lodged against housing societies

The Senate panel was told that when heroin was first seized from PIA planes earlier this year, the smuggling had been going on for a few months.

An ANF official said the smuggling ring in the Pakistani side included an Afghan national, two Pakistanis, as well as serving and retired officials from Pakistan International Airlines (PIA), and a retired official of the Airport Security Force (ASF). “A total of 14 accused have been arrested, while two are on the run,” he told the Senate committee.

He also said that the suspects among ground staff at Heathrow were also of Afghan origin, but their identity could only be ascertained after another meeting with UK authorities.

The ANF officer said a member of PIA’s sanitary staff was the main coordinator of the gang and made all arrangements for the placement of heroin bags inside planes. Even employees of the airline’s IT department were found to be complict, he added.

The panel was informed that a committee headed by the Aviation Division secretary was scrutinising the working of all three dozen departments working at Pakistan’s airports Recalling the chain of events, Brig Basharat said that ANF first seized 15kg of heroin from a PIA plane parked at a hangar at Karachi airport on April 3, 2017, before the seizure of 11kg heroin from a PIA plane at Heathrow on May 15.

Then, 14kg of heroin was seized at Islamabad airport on May 23, followed by another 2.4kg recovered on May 31 from another plane. “We had intelligence regarding this smuggling pattern and had started a covert operation even before the seizure of narcotics in London.”

Senator Javed Abbasi asked ANF officials what mechanism was used for the clearance of planes before takeoff, saying that heroin was apparently being smuggled by the tonne. ANF officials said that the force lacked modern technology and scanning gadgets, adding that the demand had been forwarded to the government.

However, they claimed that it was very difficult to completely curb the smuggling of narcotics, pointing out that drugs were even recovered from a British Airways plane in the past, despite the advanced precautionary measures in place there.

Senator Rehman Malik, the committee chairman, directed the concerned departments to ensure the installation of CCTV cameras at all airport hangars, and directed the narcotics control secretary and ANF to submit their requirements, both in terms of manpower and financial needs, to the committee so they could be put to the government. He alleged that Afghanistan was the major producer of narcotics and drugs, adding that it was time for Pakistan to ask the US to ‘do more’ in order to eliminate drugs from Afghanistan.

He insisted on the need for better border management with Afghanistan to block the entry of all kinds of narcotics and drugs, adding that these were used by terrorists to finance their activities.

Housing societies

Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) Director Mazhar Kakakhel also briefed the committee on the ongoing Supreme Court-ordered forensic audit of housing societies throughout the country.

Through complete data was still being collected, the record available to FIA showed there were 4,793 housing societies in the country, of which, 561 were cooperative housing societies; 1,914 were registered with the Securities and Exchange Commission of Pakistan, and 43 are located in Islamabad, the multi-media presentation said.

Mr Kakakhel said that a forensic audit of 88 housing societies had been initiated, and that the agency was conducting 52 inquiries against housing societies, adding that 14 FIRs had been registered.

Senator Shibli Faraz also criticised Islamabad police for its failure to trace at least two incidents of theft at the residence of his late father— the poet Ahmed Faraz. He later walked out of the meeting when a police official remarked that it was the senator’s brother, not he, who was the complainant in one of the cases.

The senator remarked that thieves stole medals and other important documents that belonged to his father and complained that he was never contacted after the theft. However, the Islamabad police official claimed that four of the accused in the first robbery were residing in Afghanistan, while three had been arrested. The second incident, however, was still untraced.

Published in Dawn, August 16th, 2017