What you need to know:
- Munaf Halari registered in Kenya Magnum Africa Limited, a perfect disguise as a businessman.
- The shadowy man’s name was not Anwar Muhammad – as indicated in his documents.
When a “rice importing” company going by the name Magnum Africa Limited was registered in Nairobi on May 18, 2007, few people, or perhaps nobody at the Registrar of Companies, took notice of the anomalies.
The official records stated that the company, registration number C.13952, was owned by Anwar Abdul Majid Muhammad, who had 510 shares and Shahnaz Bee with 490 shares. If you do an official search, and the company still exists, neither the nationality of the directors, nor the registered office is available on the records. That space is left blank with only a post office box number and neither discloses the locality of the office.
Anwar was up to no good, and the registration of Magnum Africa Limited had given him a perfect disguise as a businessman – far away from Mumbai, India, where he was a wanted man.
Again, the shadowy man’s name was not Anwar Muhammad – as indicated in his documents. He was not, even, a Pakistani, though, when he was caught, he was using a Pakistan passport number BM1799983, which had been renewed twice by the authorities in Islamabad.
Anwar’s real name was Munaf Halari, wanted over a series of 12 bomb explosions that rocked Mumbai on March 12, 1993 and shocked the world. The blasts, partly blamed on smugglers and their on-the-run kingpin, Ibrahim ‘Tiger’ Memon, killed 257 people and left 713 others injured.
But with a phony name and a fictitious nationality, Anwar Muhammad lived rather quietly in Nairobi, or so he thought, until last year, when he was arrested at the Mumbai International Airport by the Gujarat’s Anti-Terrorism Squad (ATS) en route to Dubai. It was the end of a long search for a fugitive who was put on Interpol’s Red Corner Notice, reserved for criminals supposed to face extradition.
How the man lived in Nairobi will emerge when his case starts in India and which might reveal the narcotic networks that camouflage as grain merchants.
When Halari was arrested, the Indian police reported that the Nairobi-based company was supposed to camouflage the smuggling of heroin and explosives through the Gujarat coast and that the Nairobi-based man was always in touch with the other Mumbai bombings mastermind Tiger Memon.
It is now known that shortly after the Mumbai bombings, Halari fled to Uttar Pradesh before he slipped into Pakistan together with Tiger Memon. The choice of Pakistan was apt.
India and Pakistan have fought four wars ever since the former got independence in 1947 and they have continued to harbour disputes over territorial and ideological differences. As such, Indian fugitives are treated as saints in Pakistan.
It was Tiger Memon who organised for Halari to get a Pakistan passport and a new alias – Anwar Abdul Majid Muhammad – in order to evade arrest and prosecution. Why they decided to pick Kenya as the safest destination is not known. But there is a rolling business between Kenya and Pakistani – and records indicate that between 2006 and 2010, Pakistan accounted for 74 per cent of total rice imports to Kenya. So big is the rice trade that in 2020, Kenya imported rice worth $15.4 billion, which accounted for 1.6 per cent of total import flow to Kenya.
It is, however, not clear what Halari was doing before he registered the Nairobi company in 2007 – or how he eventually settled in Kenya. But after he was caught, the New Delhi Televsion (NDTV) reported that Halari was “running a business (in Nairobi)” before he “later shifted to export-import of grains”.
The TV also reported, quoting police sources, that “in the guise of export-import of rice, Halari tried to smuggle explosives and drugs to India.”
On Sunday, February 9, 2020, Halari’s luck ran out at the Mumbai International Airport where he was to connect a flight to Dubai, where Memon is believed to have taken cover.
“We received a tip-off that Halari had come to India from Nairobi and he was intending to fly to Dubai,” K. K. Patel, assistant commissioner of police, in-charge of the Gujarat Anti-Terrorism Squad told the press.
On January 2, 2020, police off the Mandvi Coast in Gujarat had seized 35 kilos of heroin from five Pakistani plus a large amount of other contrabands. It was later discovered that the contraband belonged to Haji Hasan in Karachi. When the Anti-Terror Squad checked the phone records of Haji Hasan, they found that he was in touch with Halari. The investigators told journalists in India that the conversations with Munaf Halari centred on smuggling of explosives and heroin into India.
It was after they arrested the Pakistanis that the Indian intelligence got to know that the man they had been looking for always travelled using a Pakistan passport and that he had visited Mumbai in 2014 through the border from Pakistan. They also realised that he lived in Nairobi and was running rice importing company.
Wave of bombings
When a wave of bombings hit then Bombay in 1993, India blamed its neighbour Pakistan for engineering the carnage “through local mafia and smugglers”.
The smugglers loved Mumbai because of its direct sea link with United Arab Emirates where another of Mumbai’s most-wanted men, Dawood Ibrahim, regarded by Indian police as the ganglord’s kingpin, had scampered to before, finally settling in Pakistan.
In the terrorist ranks, India ranks Dawood as the team leader for the smugglers while Tiger Memon is a second tier terrorist. That is why India wants Dawood back; mostly to put on trial and hang.
While the Pakistan government admitted last year that Ibrahim was, indeed, there, they have not extradited him to India despite the international pressure, arguing that their statement was based on details given by the UN. But pundits claimed that Pakistan had listed Dawood’s name “to escape from getting blacklisted by the Financial Action Task Force (FATF), the global money laundering and terrorist financing watchdog.”
More so, India is now using its presence at the UN Security Council to press its case.
In January, India challenged the United Nations Security Council, where it got a seat alongside Kenya, that “we must all summon up the political will to unhesitatingly combat terrorism. There must be no ifs and buts in this fight. Nor should we allow terrorism to be justified and terrorists glorified.”
In the virtual address, India’s External Affairs minister S. Jaishankar said while alluding to Ibrahim’s status in Pakistan: “We, in India, have seen the crime syndicate responsible for the 1993 Mumbai bomb blasts not just given State protection but actually enjoying 5-star hospitality."
It is believed that Tiger Memon, the man who helped Halari settle in Nairobi, had links to another company in Tanzania which was involved in gold smuggling. Last year, during the hearing of a gold smuggling case in India, the prosecution alleged that the accused, a Mr Rameez and a Mr Sharafudheen had travelled to Tanzania and visited shops where guns are sold.
“In Tanzania, Rameez attempted to procure a licence for the diamond business. He later smuggled gold to the UAE," the court was told.
The Indian intelligence have told media in Mumbai that Magnum Africa's dealings in Pakistan might give it a chance to find the whereabouts of Tiger Memon and also to expose the international drug trafficking racket disguised as rice exports.
"We have enough evidence against Dawood Ibrahim's presence in Karachi, but we have little information to go on in Tiger Memon's case, who is the prime accused, " Ujjwal Nikam, the chief prosecutor of the serial blasts, told an Indian newspaper.
In July 2015, just before Tiger Memon’s younger brother Yakub was hanged over his role in the Mumbai bombings, he made a call to his mother from Pakistan and has vanished ever since. He is thought to own a construction company in Pakistan and several guest houses in Dubai. The saga of Magnum Africa Limited, once it starts to emerge in Indian courts, will showcase how an innocent-looking company in Nairobi was actually a drug-syndicate operated by some wanted terrorists.
And while we know that one director of Magnum has been arrested, we still don’t know who was Shahnaz Bee – and their associates.