KABUL (Reuters) - Afghanistan’s top anti-drug judge had received phone calls and text messages before he was murdered warning him to acquit a suspected drug dealer or face death, a spokesman for the anti-drugs tribunal said on Friday.
Judge Alim Hanif, chief judge of the Central Narcotics Tribunal appeals court, was leading a campaign to bring influential drug traffickers to justice when he was shot dead on Thursday on his way to work in Kabul.
“The judge was receiving death threats on his phone from a brother of a drug suspect,” Sareer Ahmad Barmak, a spokesman for the Criminal Justice Task Force, said. The last call, warning the judge not to issue a guilty verdict, came a day before he was killed.
Hanif, who had joined the tribunal four months ago, had cleared more than 100 drug-related cases, earning a rare reputation for integrity.
“He was an honest person. If he was corrupt, he wouldn’t have been killed,” Barmak said.
Afghanistan produced some 90 percent of the world’s supply of opium last year, mostly in the south where the Islamist Taliban are most active.
Security analysts say corruption has deterred efforts to combat the booming opium trade because the drug lords have close ties with high-ranking officials in the government.
A U.N. official in July said many suspects had evaded justice by simply making a phone call to friends in high places.
The Afghan government said in July 463 drug cases had been completed over the previous three months in a stepped-up campaign against the menace.
Illegal drugs are estimated to be worth more than $3 billion a year to the Afghan economy. That money helps fuel official corruption and also helps the Taliban insurgency through a 10 percent tax the militants impose on poppy farmers.
Barmak said the judge’s killing, the first of a top anti-drug official since the establishment of the tribunal court three years ago, had created fear among the rest of the team. “If the judges do not have proper security protection, it might be difficult for them to work,” he said.
Hanif did not have any bodyguards, despite the threats. Barmak said government security agencies had been told about the calls and text messages and they were working on the issue when the killing occurred.
Writing by Sanjeev Miglani; Editing by Bill Tarrant