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Pakistan citizen indicted for trying to smuggle drones for Pak Army

The individual identified as Syed Vaqar Ashraf, charged on nine counts, transferred more than USD 62,000 to a US company in different money transfers from Pakistan.

Washington: A Pakistani national has been indicted by a US court for trying to smuggle high-end military grade drones for the Pakistan Army by using a Lahore-based shell company.

The individual identified as Syed Vaqar Ashraf, charged on nine counts, transferred more than USD 62,000 to a US company in different money transfers from Pakistan between 2012 and 2014, towards the purchase of a series of high-end drones ? with an estimated cost of more than USD 340,000, according to court documents.

While the court case has been going on for more than a year now, a US court in Phoenix unsealed the documents including federal complaint and indictment on January 6 The 14-page superseding indictment was filed before the court in December last year.

Court officials said Ashraf has been arrested in Brussels about a year ago and extradited to the United States some four months ago. His last court appearance was on December 23, during which he pleaded not guilty. There was no immediate response from the Pakistan Embassy here.

According to the indictment, Ashraf was the CEO of Lahore-based I&E International. Federal prosecutors alleged that this was a front company for the Pakistan Advanced Engineering Research Organisation (AERO), based in Lahore. Ashraf placed orders to a Arizona-based drone company for high-end military-grade drones.

The Arizona company ? not named in the indictment ? specialised in the design, development and manufacturing of unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV) for the US military. Federal prosecutors claim that Ashraf placed orders through emails for purchase of specific gyroscopes including eight VG34-0803 which is designed for medium size, multi- payload UAC designed for tactical long endurance missions, with a primary mission of reconnaissance, surveillance and communication relay.

He also placed orders for 10 Memsic VG800CA-200 Low Drift MEMS Vertical Gyros, which has a military and non-military applications and is used to increase stability inside a UAV. Both the items come under export control of the US Government. These models, capable of flying more than 20 hours, were designed for Israel and is used for reconnaissance .

The total cost of these military hardware was nearly USD 3,45,000, for which he made an advancement payment of USD 62,000 in five wire transfers.

According to court documents, Ashraf concealed to the representative of the US-based drone company ? who was in fact an official of Homeland Security department? about the actual reason for his purchase of such equipment.

When the officials from the US drone company told Ashraf that this equipment could not be shipped directly to Pakistan, Ashraf gave them a Brussels address.

"Ashraf requested that Person A (from the US drone company) transship the modules to Pakistan, through Belgium," the indictment said.

Federal prosecutors alleged that Ashraf filled out fraudulent documents in the name of Innovative Links, a shell company used by him.

But he was purchasing these for AERO, which is in fact a wing of the Pakistan military, prosecutors said.

According to court documents, Ashraf told the undercover agent that his client was in fact the Pakistani military. The trial is scheduled for February 7.