Thursday, June 28, 2007

Scotland: A sheriff has criticized the Home Office for not deporting an Iranian asylum seeker later caught handling a record haul of raw opium

Frank Urquhart:

Fatholla Abedi, 40, an Iranian who has been living illegally in Britain for the past four years, and Ali Abed, 34, an Iraqi, were arrested in a major operation by the Scottish Crime and Drug Enforcement Agency (SCDEA).

Customs officers seized a metal cylinder disguised as a machine tool containing the opium, which is used to manufacture heroin. The 5.5kg of the drug seized had a street value of £54,000 and was the largest haul so far seized in Scotland.

Aberdeen Sheriff Court was told that Abedi, who is facing deportation following his criminal conviction, had been refused political asylum four years ago by the Home Office and had since been living illegally in Britain.

Sheriff Alexander Jessop said: "I find that a very disturbing state of affairs. He would not, after all, have been here to commit this crime."

He added: "Why should I recommend it [deportation] when the Home Office has done nothing about it for four years?"

Abedi's defence agent, George Mathers, had earlier told the court that Abedi was "terrified" of being deported back to Iran as news of the offence in which he had been involved had reached his home village near Teheran.

He feared being arrested and imprisoned or "even worse" if he was deported back to his native country.

Both men were convicted of being concerned in the supply of the class-A drug last August, after trial at Aberdeen Sheriff Court.

Abed was also found guilty of trying to import opium into East Midlands Airport and Aberdeen, but the jury returned a verdict of not proven against Abedi on the same charge.

The drug was discovered after Customs officers at the airport, near Nottingham, became suspicious about the "machine tool", which had arrived on a flight from Istanbul in Turkey.

The drug package was about the size of a box of chocolates and the operation was appropriately named "Operation Gump."

The opium was removed and the package delivered to the Milano pizza parlour in Bridge of Don, Aberdeen, by an SCDEA officer posing as a courier.

Yesterday both HM Customs and the SCDEA were praised by Mr Jessop as he jailed Abed for five years and Abedi for four years.

Three weeks ago, in his closing speech to the jury, Brian Bell, the depute fiscal, compared the opium smuggling scheme to the plot of a James Bond movie.

One of the defence witnesses at the trial claimed to be a former Iranian spy and gave evidence in a 9/11 trial in Germany.

Hamid Reza Zakeri, an alleged intelligence ministry agent in Iran, explained that the authorities there had previously sent drugs to opponents of the Iranian regime to "set them up".

Abedi's wife, Rezvaneh Jouzy, also claimed in court that her husband had been set up by the Iranian government because he was a "freedom fighter" who had opposed the authorities.

Abed, of Dubford Avenue, and Abedi, of Overhill Gardens, both Bridge of Don, are brothers-in-law.

A spokesman for the Home Office said last night: "We do not comment on individual cases.

"Irrespective of whether a court recommends deportation or not, the Secretary of State has the power to make deportation orders against those whose presence in the UK is not conducive to the public good."

He added: "Foreign nationals must obey the laws of this country in the same way as everybody else and those who have committed criminal offences here are subject to the same legal processes as anyone else in the UK.

"We have made it perfectly clear that our objective is that foreign national prisoners should face deportation; and that deportation should happen as early as possible."

Damien Green, the shadow immigration minister, backed Mr Jessop's remarks. He said: "The sheriff is quite right. It is outrageous that people who should not be here are being left here and are going on to commit crimes."

Detective Chief Superintendent Stephen Ward of the SCDEA said: "This dangerous class A drug, opium, is not often found being smuggled into Scotland, but [our] officers will work tirelessly with police to tackle drug trafficking in all its forms."

Two men jailed for opium supply


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