Heroin trafficker with ties to Taliban gets life in U.S. prison

WASHINGTON Tue Jun 12, 2012 11:35pm EDT

Afghan farmers work at a poppy field in Jalalabad province May 5, 2012. REUTERS/Parwiz

Afghan farmers work at a poppy field in Jalalabad province May 5, 2012.

Credit: Reuters/Parwiz

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - An Afghan national with links to the Taliban was sentenced to life in prison for conspiring to distribute heroin in the United States and use the proceeds to fund the Taliban, U.S. Department of Justice officials said on Tuesday.

Haji Bagcho, who authorities called one of the most notorious heroin traffickers in the world, was sentenced to life in prison at the U.S. District Court of the District of Columbia, after being convicted of conspiracy, distribution of heroin to the United States and narco-terrorism.

"One of the world's most prolific drug traffickers who helped fund the Taliban will spend his remaining days behind bars in a U.S. prison," Administrator Michele Leonhart of the Drug Enforcement Administration said in a statement from the Justice Department.

Bagcho's case marks the second time a trial has been held under a narco-terrorism statute enacted as a provision of the USA Patriot Act that went into effect in 2006. The measure applies to the use of profits from drug sales to fund acts of terrorism.

Bagcho had been making heroin in secret laboratories along Afghanistan's border with Pakistan for years, according to the statement from the Justice Department.

He had used proceeds from sending heroin to more than 20 countries to support the former Taliban governor of Nangarhar Province and two Taliban commanders responsible for insurgent activity in eastern Afghanistan, the Justice Department said.

Afghanistan's economy, ruined by decades of war, depends heavily on the drug trade, which funnels an estimated $100 million a year to the Taliban though levies on farmers and traffickers, according to the United Nations office on Drugs and Crime (UNDOC).

With U.S. and NATO combat forces expected to leave Afghanistan by the end of 2014, U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon warned at an international conference in February that a global effort was needed to combat narcotics production in the country.

"We cannot speak of sustainable development when opium production is the only viable economic activity in the country," Ban told a meeting of the so-called Paris Pact in Vienna on February 16.

Bagcho made heroin transactions of more than 123,000 kilograms (271,100 pounds) and worth more than $250 million in 2006. That accounted for about 20 percent of the total amount of heroin produced in the world that year, the Justice department said, citing 2006 statistics from UNDOC.

Bagcho had been the subject of an investigation between the DEA, the U.S. Embassy in Kabul, and Afghan law enforcement. He was arrested and extradited to the United States from Afghanistan in May 2009 and convicted of the charges in March by a jury.

Khan Mohammed, a member of an Afghan Taliban cell, from the Nangarhar Province, was the first person convicted under the narco-terrorism statute.

Found guilty for intending to ship heroin to the United States and use profits from the trade to assist the Taliban in 2008, Mohammed also received a life sentence in prison.

(Reporting by Lily Kuo; editing by Christopher Wilson)