Khalid Rashid: Govt's cover is blown
The faÃ§ade of legality thrown up around the deportation of Pakistani national Khalid Rashid is crumbling as embarrassing new evidence about his fate trickles out of the Pretoria High Court.
The Department of Home Affairs, which appears to have been asked by the police crime intelligence division to provide legal cover for Rashidâ€™s arrest and handover to Pakistani authorities, has been left exposed to charges that it connived with the South African Police Service and foreign intelligence agencies in the “extraordinary rendition” of a suspect in the war against terror.
Despite repeated assurances by Minister of Home Affairs Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula, it is now abundantly clear that this was no ordinary deportation.
Rashid, suspected of links to international terror networks, was arrested by crime intelligence officers in Estcourt, KwaZulu-Natal, on October 31 and held for seven days at Cullinan police station before being flown out of Waterkloof air force base on a private jet.
The Department of Home Affairs has maintained that he was deported to Pakistan for residing in South Africa illegally. But the department resisted turning over detailed evidence until Tuesday, when Judge Justice Poswa ordered Mapisa-Nqakula to produce information on Rashidâ€™s whereabouts, despite the departmentâ€™s application for leave to appeal. Even then, she said only that the registration number of the jet was A6-PHY.
That number corresponds to a Gulfstream II jet owned by AVE, a company legally domiciled in the central Asian republic of Kyrgyzstan, whose main base of operations is Sharjah in the United Arab Emirates.
The charter was arranged by the government of Pakistan, said home affairs spokesperson Cleo Mosana.
The presence of the Pakistani intelligence officials aboard the jet has allowed Mapisa-Nqakula truthfully to insist that Rashid was handed over to officials of his home country.
Confirmation by the state attorneyâ€™s office that Rashid was taken out of the country on a chartered flight from an air force base — rather than on a commercial flight from a point of entry, which is standard procedure for deportations — further strengthens the charge that Rashid was illegally turned over to British or Pakistani authorities.
He was, according to his attorney Zehir Omar, a member of the Taliban, with intimate knowledge of the mountain country along the border between Pakistan and Afghanistan, where remnants of al-Qaeda and the Taliban are still hiding out.
People close to Omar now believe he is being asked to assist in the search for other terror suspects hiding out in the border zone.
Other embarrassing questions about procedure have been raised. A handwritten affidavit signed by Rashid on November 2, shortly before he was sent out of the country, strongly suggests the South African authorities did not examine his passport to determine his legal status. The affidavit refers to “my passport in the bathroom under the dirty clothes” in the Estcourt apartment where he was living at the time of his arrest.
It now appears that the passport passed from his landlord, who found it, into Omarâ€™s possession. “They say they kicked the door down, went into the house and inspected his passport,” he said. “Thatâ€™s a lie — I have the original passport,” said Omar.
According to Mosana, however, the decision to deport Rashid was based not on an inspection of the passport but on Rashidâ€™s sworn statement. In it, she said, he admitted to having paid a bribe at Johannesburg International airport to enter the country illegally.
A further suspicious circumstance, according to Omar, is internal home affairs correspondence proposing that the Pakistani embassy be approached to produce a backdated letter confirming Rashidâ€™s arrival in Pakistan in good health.
Omar insisted that South African authorities had violated the Immigration Act of 2002 in sending Rashid out of the country without notifying him of his fate or giving him the opportunity to seek representation. Section 8 of the Act states that home affairs must “give such person at least 10 calendar days to make representations”.
“What I have shown you now, in unequivocal terms, is the arrest, the deportation and the detention of Khalid Mehmood Rashid was unlawful,” Omar said.
Omar also alleged that in secretly turning Rashid over to foreign authorities without following South African extradition law, Mapisa-Nqakula violated the section of the Rome Statute prohibiting the enforced disappearance of persons — a crime against humanity.
He claimed the high courts of South Africa are authorised to investigate violations of international law, and plans to request a commission of inquiry to investigate whether the Rome Statute was violated.
Omar also said he plans to subpoena Mapisa-Nqakula, Intelligence Minister Ronnie Kasrils and Ministry of Safety and Security Charles Nqakula and question them on their role in Rashidâ€™s disappearance, though he declined to say when.
In an additional twist, suggestive but inconclusive links between the owners of the Gulfstream and international weapons smuggling networks have emerged.
AVE is the latest incarnation of Phoenix Aviation, a firm persistently linked by investigators to the notorious Russian weapons dealer Victor Bout, whose large fleet of aircraft and widely documented involvement in shipping illegal arms to an assortment of dictators and rebel movements earned him the sobriquet “The Merchant of Death”.
His precise link with Phoenix is not clear, but at least two aircraft in the AVE/Phoenix fleet, both Ilyushin 18 transporters, have in the past been owned or used by firms implicated in weapons smuggling. One came to AVE from Renan air, a Moldovan company, which according to an Amnesty International report was involved in gun running to Mayi Mayi militias in the eastern DRC.
A United Nations report also accused Renan of collaborating with Boutâ€™s Air Ces in the supply of weapons to Liberian warlord Charles Taylor.
In a telephone interview, AVE Charter manager Sergey Shcherba said from Sharjah that he was aware of the flight, but failed to respond to further e-mailed questions.
Home affairsâ€™s Mosana said Omar was “playing to the gallery” rather than following procedure. She said her department did not have additional information about Khalidâ€™s whereabouts. More might be forthcoming from the police or department of justice.