- The Washington Times - Tuesday, March 16, 2010

A naturalized U.S. citizen, who headed one of Pakistan’s largest banks and is fighting extradition to that country in a $10 million fraud case, said on Monday he has been threatened by Pakistani officials and is a victim of political persecution — two factors the State Department must consider under its own regulations before agreeing to return him.

Hamesh Khan also said in court filings that State Department officials pressured the Agriculture Department to fire him as a financial analyst in January following his arrest in December by U.S. Marshals.

Mr. Khan, during a hearing in U.S. District Court in Alexandria, conceded there was enough evidence to skip a hearing before a judge and submit his case to Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, who certified the Pakistani extradition request in October after Pakistani authorities accused him of forgery and fraud.

Despite agreeing to forego what is known as a probable cause hearing, Mr. Khan denies any wrongdoing.

“I have serious and legitimate concerns about the nature of Pakistan’s extradition request,” wrote Mr. Khan’s attorney, Stuart Sears, in a letter Thursday to the State Department.

“I have an obligation to advise you of specific threats Mr. Khan has received from individuals connected to his extradition … I believe a brief meeting would be appropriate and consistent with the State Department’s obligations in carrying out the extradition of U.S. citizens such as Mr. Khan to countries with a long history of corruption and violence.”

In court papers, Mr. Khan said the Agriculture Department “cowered to political pressure” from the State Department by firing him and that the timing of his December arrest coincided with the detention of five Americans in Pakistan under suspicion of terrorism.

“The State Department has an interest in, and commitment to, assisting the current Pakistani regime in whatever means it can in order to receive assistance in the U.S.’ ongoing war on terrorism,” Mr. Khan said in appealing his firing.

In an interview last week with The Washington Times, Mr. Khan said he was accused of fraud because he had denied loans to Shahbaz Sharif and Nawaz Sharif, members of a political party that in 2008 took over from former Pakistani president Pervez Musharraf. It was Mr. Musharraf who approved Mr. Khan’s appointment as head of the Bank of Punjab in 2002.

Nawaz Sharif is a former prime minister of Pakistan. His brother, Shahbaz, is the chief minister of Punjab province.

The charges are based primarily on sworn statements by Sheik Muhammad Afzal, director of Haris Steel Industries in Lahore, who has admitted to fraudulently opening dozens of loan accounts with Mr. Khan’s former bank — using fake names and worthless property as collateral. After he was caught, Mr. Afzal accused Mr. Khan of aiding in the scheme.

In court papers, Mr. Khan said he never sanctioned the loans, took steps to audit Haris Steel and his own bank, turned in employees who allegedly aided in the scheme, and told authorities they should prevent Mr. Afzal from leaving the country.

Mr. Khan said he left Pakistan in May 2008, about a month after he was fired from the bank, on the advice of State Department officials Bryan Hunt and Michael Chang. He said he was hired in February 2009 by the Agriculture Department, where he was “a dependable, talented and trustworthy employee,” according to his filing with the employment appeals board.

The State Department has two months to consider the extradition request.

“We are hopeful the State Department will honor their duties under the [Foreign Affairs Manual] by studying the record of the case and truly inquiring into whether Mr. Khan’s prosecution is politically motivated as well as the likelihood that he will be tortured or worse if he is returned to Pakistan,” Mr. Sears said in an e-mail Monday.

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