ISLAMABAD - The Ministry of Foreign Affairs has proposed major amendments in the existing Standard Operating Procedure (SOP) for implementation of agreements on transfer of offenders — a move aimed at plugging in loopholes so that the convicted persons could not take benefit of procedural lacunae as has had been a practice in the past, sources told The Nation yesterday.

The SOP has been revised in consultation with the diplomatic missions abroad. Last year, progress in the cases of transfer of offenders had been stopped by the interior minister till the formulation of a transparent policy after reports emerged that a number of convicted persons, who had been brought to Pakistan from jails abroad, managed to get themselves freed with the help of government officials including interior ministry officials without completing their sentence in Pakistan. The term in Pakistani prison was mandatory under the treaties. Under the draft SOP, a copy of which is exclusively available with The Nation, the Ministry of Interior will maintain record of jail term being served in Pakistan by the transferred offender and coordinate with concerned home department/jail authorities for transfer of offenders from place of arrival to the designated jail but will not communicate directly with the concerned diplomatic mission.

Under the draft SOP proposed by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Pakistan’s diplomatic missions will inform the offender of Pakistani origin of the option of transfer to Pakistan provided that the offender consents to the transfer and has more than six months left to complete the term of imprisonment. The respective mission will obtain all relevant details, including the offender’s CNIC, passport number, address in Pakistan, contacts and citizenship details of family members, details of offence committed abroad (including judgment of the court with details of sentence), photograph, certified finger prints before processing the case any further, said the documents exclusively available with The Nation. The revised draft SOP said the information related to the offender would be sent to the secretary interior, being the central approving authority, through ministry of foreign affairs and that Ministry of interior will not communicate directly with the concerned diplomatic mission. The interior ministry will process the documents, verify through NADRA and IMPASS and any other concerned ministry or department, depending upon the nature of offence, e.g. ANF in case of drug offenders. It will process the information and convey its concurrence for further processing of the case to the ministry of foreign affairs, the draft SOP reads.

It further said after confirmation of transfer arrangements, the concerned Pakistani diplomatic mission abroad will prepare and submit “Risk Assessment Declaration Form” to the concerned airline at least 72 hours prior to travel, under intimation to the interior ministry. The ministry of interior is the sole central authority in matters of transfer of offenders, the draft SOP maintains. Prior to arrival in Pakistan, the interior ministry will coordinate with concerned home department/jail authorities for transfer of offenders from place of arrival to the designated jail. The mission will ensure custody of offender to the personnel of Pakistani LEAs designated by the ministry of interior from the foreign jail where the offender is undergoing the sentence. All the expenses of LEAs for travel abroad and transfer of offender to Pakistan, including their visa expenses and local travel within the country of imprisonment, shall be borne by the ministry of interior.

The draft SOP said the offender will travel under ICAO code, according to which only personnel of LEAs may escort the offender. MoI will determine the appropriate escorting personnel. Upon arrival in Pakistan, the concerned LEA will transfer the offender to the designated jail. Secretary interior will be the ‘Central Authority’ from Pakistan for the purpose of implementation of all arrangements on transfer of offenders. In case, of non-availability of secretary interior during emergency circumstances, the concerned additional secretary may take interim decision, subject to ex-post-facto approval by secretary interior, the SOP said. The ministry of interior will maintain record of jail term being served in Pakistan by the transferred offender. In case of filing of writ petition by a transferred offender, it will contest any cases filed by the transferred offender for early release against the terms of the agreement, the SOP said.

Pakistan has the ‘Transfer of Offenders’ agreement with several countries including UK, UAE, Sri Lanka, Thailand and Spain. The decision to stop processing such cases was taken after reports emerged that a number of convict persons who had been brought to Pakistan from jails in some foreign countries, managed to get them freed without completing their sentences. Investigations revealed that a number of Pakistanis who had been convicted of committing heinous crimes in other countries were illegally released from jails in connivance with the officials of ministry of interior and provincial governments.

The interior minister had also ordered an inquiry into such cases. The FIA had arrested in Ecuador a Pakistani convicted by a British court in Feb 2004 for murdering a man in the UK. The interior ministry claimed that other culprits in the case had already been arrested in the UAE and Pakistan. The arrested man, Rizwan Habib, had been sentenced to life in prison at Old Bailey for having beaten to death the son of a Pakistani business tycoon on Dec 16, 2001, and dumping his body in a river in Surrey and stealing his identity documents. Habib and his gang then went on a spending spree in Las Vegas, running up bills of thousands of pounds on the victim’s credit cards before heading to Australia, Dubai and Canada. The British police tracked him down and he was arrested in Canada and deported to the UK. Under an agreement on exchange of prisoners signed with Britain, Habib and his accomplices were to complete the rest of their sentence in Pakistan, but they were fraudulently released days after having been brought to the country. On the orders of Chaudhry Nisar, the officials of the interior ministry and Punjab police who had helped in the illegal release of the convicts were arrested. The agreement signed by the PPP government in 2010 was, however, abolished by the UK in 2012 after the fraudulent release of the convicts. The British government restored the agreement last year after the measures taken by the interior minister.

It was reported in April 2015 that a drug lord from Myanmar had been issued a Pakistani passport by the country’s foreign affairs ministry in Thailand on the basis of a fake domicile purportedly issued from Khushab before he was brought to Pakistan even though the interior ministry had refused to accept him. Ibrahim Koko, the drug lord, is at present in the custody of the Federal Investigation Agency (FIA). The scam involved dozens of illegal transfers of drug barons to Pakistan from at least two countries over the years and release of convicts brought to the country without completing their jail terms. An inquiry by the Anti-Narcotics Force (ANF) revealed that Koko was born in Rangoon on Nov 14, 1972 and at the age of 17 he had been brought by his uncle to Singapore on fake documents. He was arrested in 1993 on fake identity and later deported to Myanmar. Koko later moved to Thailand where he was convicted of drug-related charges. He was then brought to Pakistan after a fraudulent exercise to prove him a Pakistani national, but was caught by the FIA. Under the agreement, Pakistani nationals complete a part of the sentence in the country where they are convicted and then brought to Pakistan to complete their remaining term.