Saturday, December 3, 2022

Justice delivered: How Indian agencies pooled resources to help a wronged Indian couple in Qatar

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By Anupam Pandey

Amid the complete chaos of politically motivated cases and indictments in India, there still remains the silver lining of judgment, of powerful investigating agencies doing their duties as they should. An example of this came to light recently, when a newly wedded couple unknowingly fell into a drug-mule trap and spent two years in a Qatar jail, before Indian agencies secured their release and also caught the criminals. It is justice delivered, almost like a Bollywood movie script.

It was the great work of the Narcotic Control Bureau (NCP), Mumbai Police, the PMO, the Foreign Ministry and the Indian Embassy in Qatar, who, all together, finally secured the release of the couple.

The Mumbai couple, Oniba and Shariq, were college friends and lovers, who finally married in April 2018. However, their happy soon turned into a nightmare when, on July 4, 2019, Shariq received a call from his aunt Tabassum, offering him a four-day honeymoon package, fully sponsored by her, to Qatar. The offer from his aunt was there since his marriage, but they were not eager to take it up.

But Tabassum’s insistence finally had its way and the couple accepted the offer. The flight was booked via Bengaluru, even though direct flights were available from Mumbai. Hotel arrangements had already been made by his aunt. Tabassum gave him a bag, saying that it is a parcel for Tabassum’s relative. “You just have to deliver it in Qatar,” Tabassum had said. Shariq had asked his aunt about the contents of the bag, but she had convinced him that it was nothing but ‘Manikchand Zarda’ which is not available in Qatar. She also instructed them how many sets of clothes they were to carry,

On July 6, 2019 Shariq, along with his three-month pregnant wife, landed in Doha, Qatar where immigration authorities asked them to pick up their luggage were taken to the customs office where they were asked to wait.

Customs officials asked them to take out all the goods from their suitcase – the one Tabassum gave – and when they put the blank suitcase in the scanner, things went wrong. 4kg and 10 gram of hashish (charas) was found in the bag. The couple was immediately taken into custody and presented before the lower court which gave them a 10-year prison sentence.

In Mumbai the family of the couple was waiting to ask them about their well-being, but when they got no call in a few days, family members approached Tabassum. Initially, she denied any knowledge of their whereabouts, but later admitted that they had been caught with drugs by Qatar customs. She also confessed that the drugs were in the bag she had given them.

Shariq’s family immediately rushed to Qatar and with the help of a local advocate they filed an appeal in the higher court of Qatar with some additional evidence. However, no proof was taken into consideration by the higher court and in October 2019 higher court upheld the lower court’s order and send them to 10 years of imprisonment.

Somehow, the family managed get the mobile phone of Shariq from which all the phone call recordings were available between the Shariq and his aunt Tabassum.

After the family came back to India, they filed an FIR with Mumbai Police against Tabassum and her associate Nizam Kara. Later, Nizam Kara was arrested with 11gm of drugs. Nizam Kara was sent to jail. Mumbai Police was unable to proceed further in the case, since they had limited powers in the case where the issue involves two countries.

In October 2019 the father of Oniba, Shakeel Ahmed Qureshi, wrote a letter to the Director-General of the Narcotic Control Bureau (NCB) and narrated all the incidents and also submitted the mobile phone of Shariq in which all the call recordings between Tabassum and Shariq were available.

The call recordings prima facie proved the innocence of the couple and that they had been trapped by their aunt Tabassum. DG RakeshAsthana immediately acted on the same and formed a team headed by Deputy Director of NCB KPS Malhotra, who was in the news during the actor Sushant Singh Rajput death case.

Surveillance was put on Tabassum and Nizam Kara, but Nizam Kara was in the custody of Mumbai Police. NCB waited for his release. In the meantime NCB got the lead that the wife of Nizam Kara, Shaheeda Kara, was about to send a couple out in the same way as Oniba and Shariq was send with drugs in a bag. This time the drug was to be supplied from Kullu. NCB raided and arrested four people with 1.5kg drugs, along with Rs 3 lakhs in cash.

The arrested people confessed that this was given by Shaheeda Kara. NCB arrested Shaheeda Kara and Nizam Kara but that was March 2020 and the whole nation went into lockdown. The operation was put on hold.

During interrogation Tabassum and Nizam Kara accepted that the drug was given by them to Oniba and Shariq and the couple has no clue about the same.

A similar confession was made before the Mumbai Police also, but since confessions before the police are not admissible in court under section 25 of the Evidence Act, therefore it is not admissible in any court of any other country either. However, under section 67 of the NDPS Act, any statement made before NCB is admissible in Indian Courts, therefore it is also admissible in the Courts of other Countries.

NCB Director Rakesh Asthana contacted the Prime Minister Office and the Foreign Ministry and through the Indian Embassy, presented all the proofs to the Qatar administration.

An appeal was filed in the Supreme Court of Qatar and on January 11, 2021, the Court directed the lower court to hear the matter again and lower court fixed the hearing for March 29, 2021. On the day of Holi, the Qatar court found them innocent and they were released, with their daughter Aayat, born in custody and by now one year old.

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On April 15 the couple, after clearing all charges, landed at Mumbai airport at 2:30 am along with Aayat a year old daughter.

The NCP, Mumbai Police, PMO, Foreign Ministry and Indian Embassy in Qatar have done a tremendous job in this case. This case is a living example that justice is alive and that the work of agencies is not only to send culprits to jail but also to help the innocents come out from imprisonment.

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