US busts Pakistan-based network of human smugglers

Published April 9, 2021
A sign marks the US Treasury Department in Washington. — Reuters
A sign marks the US Treasury Department in Washington. — Reuters

WASHINGTON: The US Department of Treasury has designated a Nowshera-based travel agency a Transnational Criminal Organisation (TCO) and its head and three associates as facilitators in its criminal activities.

In a statement issued on Wednesday evening, the department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) said that the Abid Ali Khan TCO “is a human smuggling organisation based in Nowshera, Pakistan, that has facilitated the unlawful smuggling of foreign nationals into the United States” and other countries.

Those brought into the US included “foreign nationals who may pose a national security risk to the United States or its interests,” the statement added.

The department also said that these individuals and their agency have been using various travel routes through Latin America since at least 2015.

“The designation is an important step … towards disrupting (their) operations in Pakistan and around the world,” said OFAC Director Andrea Gacki. “The Abid Ali Khan TCO should not be allowed to prey on the vulnerable and take advantage of the US financial system.”

“Abid Ali Kahn allegedly organizes and leads a widespread smuggling organization that facilitates the illegal smuggling of individuals through various countries and to the United States,” US Acting Assistant Attorney General Nicholas L. McQuaid said.

Homeland Security Investigations’ Miami Special Agent in Charge Anthony Salisbury said their investigation revealed that this “smuggling network, operating in the Middle East and South America, is exploiting systemic vulnerabilities in order to move people with nefarious motivations into the United States and elsewhere.”

Human smuggling is a profitable business, generating at least $150 million and as much as $350 million a year in Latin America alone.

For the individuals who engage in this business, the safety and security of their clients matter far less than the profit they can make. Many of their clients die on the route.

The OFAC statement identified Pakistani national Abid Ali Khan as the “leader of a prolific human smuggling organization based in Nowshera,” KP. This global network of human smugglers charges an average of $20,000 per individual. The sum includes fees to procure fraudulent or counterfeit documents, make payoffs to corrupt officials, secure lodging along smuggling routes, and provide payments to facilitators in various countries.

The gang often provides travelers with fraudulently obtained passports from different countries to facilitate his clients’ global movement and smuggling to the United States. It frequently utilizes a common route of travel that begins in Pakistan or Afghanistan, transiting through certain South and Central American countries before arriving at the southern border of the United States.

OFAC has also designated three Khan associates for their involvement in human smuggling. Afghan national Redi Hussein Khal Gul serves as Khan’s secretary, performing functions that include initial contact with clients, travel facilitation, and obtaining fraudulent documents for the migrants.

Pakistani national Shakeel Karim is an employee of Khan and uses Friends Travel Inn PVT LTD to coordinate travel for migrants.

Pakistani national Choudhry Ikram Waraich serves as Khan’s contact in the Middle East and facilitates travel into the United States.

Published in Dawn, April 9th, 2021

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