Drug Kingpin & Transnational Crime
November 05, 2019

Former Pakistani Drug Trafficking Organization Leader Sentenced in U.S. to 15 Years in Prison

By Samuel Rubenfeld

(Photo: U.S. Department of the Treasury)


Shahbaz Khan, the former leader of a Pakistani drug trafficking organization (DTO), was sentenced Tuesday to 15 years in prison after he had pleaded guilty in the U.S. to drug charges.

Khan, who is 71 years old and was sanctioned by the U.S. in 2007, pleaded guilty in May 2018 in a New York federal court to charges relating to allegations that he tried to import tens of thousands of kilograms of heroin, hidden in maritime shipping containers and air cargo shipments, to New York City. He had spent weeks negotiating the shipments with people he thought were customers of the DTO, but who were in fact confidential sources working with an undercover agent of the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), prosecutors said. 

Khan was an international drug kingpin who distributed staggering quantities of narcotics from southwest Asia to countries throughout the world,” said U.S. Attorney Geoffrey Berman.

The U.S. Treasury Department sanctioned Khan’s criminal and financial network in November 2007, months after he had been named by then-President George W. Bush as a drug trafficker. His son, Sherbaz Khan, was cited by the Treasury at the time as “a key lieutenant” in his father’s DTO responsible for managing the financial network in Pakistan. 

Khan had been serving a life sentence in the United Arab Emirates at the time he was sanctioned, according to the Treasury’s designation statement. However, the charges against him and others were thrown out in May 2012 by an appellate court in Abu Dhabi and the UAE Union Supreme Court upheld the appellate decision, according to a translation of the UAE Union Supreme Court’s opinion filed in October by Khan’s U.S. lawyers. 

Khan returned home to Pakistan in 2013 after his release from the UAE; the U.S. sanctions had rendered his businesses inoperable and he considered himself retired, Khan’s lawyers said in court records filed in April. 

Three years later, he was “targeted by the DEA sting operation,” Khan’s lawyers said. 

Prosecutors, however, said Khan was a “lifelong drug trafficker” who had no other income during the 12-month period before his arrest other than the money he made from drug trafficking. Khan is correct that he was targeted by the DEA, but the agency did so “based on his history as an international drug trafficker,” prosecutors said in April. 

The confidential sources told Khan in 2016 that they worked with a New York City-based drug trafficker who was looking for a new supplier, according to prosecutors. The sources said the supplier, who in fact was the undercover DEA agent, intended to buy up to 300 kilograms of heroin a week from Khan and his DTO, prosecutors said. 

Khan bragged to the confidential sources about his decades of experience in international drug trafficking, including that he had once transported 114 tons of drugs in a single year, including 64 tons of hashish, according to prosecutors. Within weeks of meeting the confidential sources, Khan met them and the agent in the Maldives, during which time Khan explained the various ways he could transport the heroin to the agent, including from Pakistan via a transshipment point in Africa, prosecutors said. 

Khan boasted he could ship drugs “wherever” the agent wanted, saying, according to prosecutors: “If you tell me America, I will send it to America.” Khan in October 2016 provided a five-kilogram sample of heroin to the confidential sources in Kabul, Afghanistan, and weeks later traveled to Liberia to meet with the agent, prosecutors said. 

Khan told the agent while in transit that he could ship up to 10,000 kilograms at a time; when he landed, however, Khan was arrested and immediately sent to the U.S. to face charges. Khan changed his plea to guilty days before his trial was set to begin, according to the court docket.