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Pakistan bank’s ex-chief may be extradited
Question of the Day
The former president of Pakistan’s sixth-largest bank, who holds dual citizenship in that country and the United States and was a U.S. government employee, faces extradition to Pakistan under an 80-year-old treaty to face corruption charges in a $10 million fraud case with international political overtones.
Hamesh Khan, who worked as a financial analyst for the U.S. Agriculture Department until January, is expected to admit today during a hearing in U.S. District Court in Alexandria that there is sufficient evidence to bring charges against him in a scheme to defraud the Bank of Punjab, which he headed.
But Mr. Khan has denied any wrongdoing and said he will fight efforts to return to him to his native country, which he left in 2008. The U.S. State Department must decide whether to send him back to Pakistan or resist the pending extradition request.
A 1931 treaty between the United States and Britain was the basis for his arrest last December by the U.S. Marshals Service in his Washington, D.C., Agriculture Department office. Pakistan inherited the treaty in 1947, when it and India became independent from Britain, and signed its own extradition treaty with the U.K. in 2007.
In court papers, Mr. Khan, who also headed Pakistan’s second-largest stock exchange, contends he is a victim of political persecution. He said the U.S. treaty with Pakistan unfairly limits his ability to present evidence to rebut the charges.
“We are not confident that the State Department will halt the extradition, but we hope they give us time to share with them what we know about Mr. Khan’s involvement in this case, and to impress upon them our concerns about what could happen to him upon his return to Pakistan,” said Stuart Sears, Mr. Khan’s attorney.
The State Department did not respond to numerous requests for information about the case or its pending decision in the matter.
Pakistan’s National Accountability Bureau (NAB), an anti-corruption organization with broad enforcement powers, and the U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Virginia, have charged Mr. Khan with forgery and fraud against the Bank of Punjab and of leaving the country while restricted.
Sheik Muhammad Afzal, director of Haris Steel Industries in Lahore, Pakistan, has made sworn statements to the NAB that he and Mr. Khan were co-conspirators in a scheme, in which Mr. Afzal borrowed $10 million from the bank by opening more than two dozen loan accounts with false identities and worthless collateral.
In statements filed in court in Pakistan and in Virginia, Mr. Khan said he never sanctioned the loans to Mr. Afzal, that he referred the case to the NAB and took action against his own bank employees who allegedly aided in the scheme, and that he informed authorities that Mr. Afzal should be prevented from leaving the country.
A spokesman for the U.S. Attorney in Alexandria referred questions to the Justice Department, where spokeswoman Laura Sweeney said, “We do not comment on matters of extradition.”
Mr. Khan, who was born in Peshawar, Pakistan, in 1967 but moved to the United States in 1985, landed in trouble after a precipitous fall from grace that began with a regime change in Pakistan. At the Alexandria Detention Center last Wednesday, he told The Washington Times he met on several occasions between March 2008 and April 2008 with Shahbaz Sharif, who had returned from years of exile imposed during the regime of former President Pervez Musharraf and had reassumed his post as chief minister of Punjab. Mr. Sharif is the brother of former Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif.
Mr. Musharraf and Mr. Khan have a lengthy history and are longtime golfing partners.
In 2002, it was Mr. Musharraf — as Pakistani president — who approved of Mr. Khan to head the Bank of Punjab, which was ranked near the bottom of the country’s banks at the time. Mr. Khan’s stature rose quickly as the bank, which is in part state-owned, enjoyed a strong recovery. It was during this same period that Mr. Khan was named chairman of the Lahore Stock Exchange, the country’s second-largest, and was appointed director of 10 bank boards and marketing and agricultural companies.
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