Former Afghan Leader Convicted of Drug Smuggling
This article is from the archive of The New York Sun before the launch of its new website in 2022. The Sun has neither altered nor updated such articles but will seek to correct any errors, mis-categorizations or other problems introduced during transfer.
A former powerful Afghan tribal leader who had high-level links to the Taliban was convicted yesterday of smuggling $50 million worth of heroin into America.
Bashir Noorzai, 45, could face life in prison when he is sentenced January 7 in U.S. District Court in Manhattan on his narcotics conspiracy conviction.
Prosecutors had said Noorzai was so influential in his homeland that he formed his own army and teamed up with the Taliban. They said Noorzai was one of Afghanistan’s most powerful men before the American. invasion in October 2001, presiding over a heroin empire that he knew reached the streets of America.
The defense lawyer, Ivan Fisher, argued that his client was a friend of America who offered to help Americans fight terrorism and the drug trade.
The defendant presided over the Noorzai tribe, a million people in southern and western Afghanistan and neighboring Pakistan.
After the verdict was read, Noorzai politely shook hands with Mr. Fisher, then nodded and was led away.
“We are enormously disappointed by the verdict,” Mr. Fisher said outside court. “It must be very difficult for an American jury to give a defendant associated with high-level members of the Taliban … a fair trial. This jury was unable to do that.”
Several jurors outside court said the verdict was unavoidable because of evidence that proved Noorzai was part of a drug conspiracy.
“There was no other decision we could have made,” a juror, Monica Lopez, of the Bronx, said.
She said Noorzai’s calm demeanor as the verdict was read was not surprising.
“He had to know a guilty verdict was a high probability,” Ms. Lopez said.
Juror Martha Ramos, also of the Bronx, said she felt a little prejudice arise during opening statements by a prosecutor “because the word terrorism and the Taliban was thrown at us.” She said “the whole 9/11 thing comes into play when you hear that.”
But Ms. Ramos said the evidence related to the drug charges left the jury with no choice but to convict once it considered the legal rules of conspiracy charges.
The jury deliberated a little more than three hours before reaching its verdict.