LONDON: Muhammad Gohir Khan, the 31-year-old British Pakistani man at the centre of a trial involving the plot to slay a dissident blogger in the Netherlands, was found guilty on Friday on one count of conspiracy to murder.
The jury gave its verdict to the Kingston-upon-Thames crown court after deliberating for two days.
Justice Hilliard had earlier directed the jury to return when a majority verdict was reached.
Mr Khan is to be sentenced on March 11 at a criminal court.
The trial, which spanned about two weeks, starting on Jan 11, featured chilling accounts from the prosecution of how Mr Khan was approached in early 2021 and paid by a Pakistan-based man identified as Muzamil for a ‘job’.
Later, it was communicated that the job was a contract to kill Ahmad Waqass Goraya, a dissident blogger who left Pakistan to live in exile in Rotterdam. The court heard how Mr Khan was paid £5,000 as advance via hundi, with the primary payment made into a Pakistani bank account by Muzamil. The agreement was that Mr Khan would be paid the remainder, £80,000, when the job was done.
Whatsapp and Signal message exchanges submitted as evidence during the trial revealed how the two men spoke of the hit in code words, using fishing metaphors and describing the blogger as ‘tuna not shark’ who would ‘not require fishing tools’.
Upon receiving the advance payment, Mr Khan flew to Amsterdam with a bogus letter of reference only to be denied entry due to stringent pandemic rules. Mr Khan then made a second attempt and was successful in travelling to Rotterdam via Paris after taking the Eurostar. There, Mr Khan stayed at a hotel, rented a car and made reconnaissance trips to the address of the target as provided by Muzamil. He also purchased a knife, which the prosecution said was the intended murder weapon.
Mr Khan was arrested upon his return to London at the St Pancras station, and in subsequent interviews with the police gave up his devices and shared details of the plot.
Mr Khan accepted during the cross-examination that the communications with Muzamil and the plot to murder the blogger were legitimate, but denied ever intending to murder Mr Goraya. He maintained he wanted to get money out of Muzamil, to settle an old loss incurred when Muzamil worked for the defendant’s cargo company.
During the trial, voice messages exchanged between Mr Khan and Muzamil showed that the middleman had referred to future jobs and contracts if the Goraya hit was successful. He bragged that Mr Khan could earn £20,000 - £30,000 ‘per job’.
Talking to Dawn, Mr Goraya said he was “a bit relieved” that the hitman sent to target him had been arrested and would be punished.
“But those who ordered, financed and organised the hit are still at large.”
Mr Goraya has not returned to Pakistan since 2017, the year he was abducted in the capital. That year, he and his family went into self-imposed exile in the Netherlands, citing security fears and threats.
He said that on Feb 12, 2021, the Dutch police informed him that he should move from his home as they believed his life was in danger.
“Earlier that evening, the Dutch police had been informed by the Italian police of the arrest of an Egyptian in a similar plot against me,” Mr Goraya said, alleging that there were multiple schemes to target him.
In Pakistan, where the middleman Muzamil is said to be based, there has largely been silence from authorities around the trial.
When asked if Scotland Yard is working on any leads to nab Muzamil or his “boss’ — who is mentioned in the messages but never identified — the London police said they do not comment on ongoing trials.
Published in Dawn, January 29th, 2022