Federal prosecutors in Washington are seeking a life sentence for an Afghan national convicted for his leadership role in an international heroin distribution network.
Haji Bagcho, charged in U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia in 2009, was convicted at trial in March. A mistrial was declared last year after jurors deadlocked in the rare prosecution under so-called “narco-terrorism” laws.
Bagcho was prosecuted under federal laws that target drug distributors abroad whose enterprises are connected to alleged terror activity. Prosecutors told jurors that Bagcho used money from the sale of heroin to “fund and supply powerful Taliban commanders.” Bagcho's trial was only the second ever under the narco-terrorism statute.
“It can be fairly said that the defendant is perhaps the largest drug trafficker by volume, and certainly the largest drug trafficker by share of global production, ever brought to justice in the United States,” DOJ lawyer Matthew Stiglitz, deputy chief of the human rights and special prosecutions section, said in a sentencing memo (PDF).
Prosecutors built the case against Bagcho through documentary evidence, eyewitness testimony and secretly recorded meetings. A confidential informant began working with Afghan authorities in 2007.
Stiglitz said in the court papers this week that Bagcho’s drug distribution network “harmed countless lives abroad, and whose support of the Taliban has harmed untold lives within Afghanistan.”
A life sentence, Stiglitz said, “is necessary to protect the public from him, and to send a message to others who would seek to traffic drugs and support terrorism.”
Prosecutors said Bagcho faces at least a 20-year mandatory minimum prison term on one of the drug counts, given the amount of heroin involved in the case.
Bagcho, according to the government, “played an outsized role on the world stage” for heroin distribution. Prosecutors said Bagcho in the 12-month span ending in March 2007 trafficked in more than 123,000 kilograms of heroin. Afghanistan is the world’s largest opium producer, DOJ said.
“In short, the impact that this man and his organization had on the world heroin market cannot be overstated,” Stiglitz said.
Stiglitz said to allow Bagcho release from prison “would be to subject all those who support a free and democratic Afghanistan—westerners and Afghans alike—substantial danger.”
A lawyer for Bagcho, Michelle Peterson, an assistant federal public defender in Washington, was not immediately reached for comment this afternoon.
Bagcho’s sentencing is scheduled for June 12 in front of U.S. District Judge Ellen Segal Huvelle.