Heroin trafficker gets life for supporting Taliban
A notorious Afghan drug trafficker was sentenced to life in prison for using proceeds of one of the world’s largest heroin distribution operations to support the Taliban insurgency.
Haji Bagcho manufactured heroin in secret laboratories along Afghanistan’s border with Pakistan and sent drugs to more than 20 countries.
He was arrested in May 2009 and brought to the United States to face charges following a years-long investigation by Afghan and American authorities. Prosecutors said his vast drug trafficking network in eastern Afghanistan produced hundreds of thousands of kilograms of heroin, including shipments intended for the US, and funnelled proceeds to high-level Taliban officials who protected him from police there.
He maintained his innocence during a long and rambling statement at his sentencing hearing in federal court in Washington. His lawyer pleaded for leniency because his client is at least 70 years old and in failing health, and said he doubted a long prison sentence would deter international drug traffickers. But US District Judge Ellen Huvelle rejected those arguments, saying Bagcho was responsible for an “astronomical” quantity of drugs and that a life sentence – the maximum possible prison term – was warranted.
Bagcho was also ordered to forfeit more than $254 million in drug proceeds.
Justice Department prosecutor Matthew Stiglitz said Bagcho was “really in a class by himself” among drug traffickers but that the quantity of drugs only tells part of the story. He urged the judge to take into account “what is it he did with the money generated during this massive drug enterprise.”
Bagcho used some proceeds to provide support, including cash, weapons and other supplies, to Taliban commanders who shielded his operation from the police.
“Today’s life sentence is an appropriate punishment for one of the most notorious heroin traffickers in the world,” Assistant Attorney General Lanny Breuer said in a written statement.
Afghan authorities and the Drug Enforcement Administration began investigating Bagcho in late 2004 and early 2005, relying on help from, among others, a confidential informant who had once worked as Bagcho’s assistant and who described for authorities the inner workings of the drug operation. The assistant told authorities how he travelled with Bagcho to heroin conversion laboratories and how he would help package heroin and transport shipments, often while armed with an AK-47.
After a first trial ended last autumn with a hung jury, Bagcho was convicted in March of conspiracy, distributing heroin for importation into the United States and narcoterrorism. The Justice Department says this case is just the second under the narcoterrorism statute to reach trial. The statute makes it a crime to use drug sale proceeds to finance acts of terrorism.
Speaking rapidly through an interpreter, Bagcho appeared agitated as he proclaimed his innocence, saying he was simply a merchant like his father and grandfather before him and attempting to rehash elements of his trial.
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