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Mumbai couple acquitted in drug case in Qatar, to return after 2 yrs with baby born in jail

Mohammad Shareeq & Oniba Qureshi went on a ‘second honeymoon’ to Qatar, a gift from a relative, when they were arrested in Doha for carrying hashish in their luggage.

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New Delhi: After spending nearly two years in jail, a Mumbai couple convicted for 10 years in a drug trafficking case in Qatar, was Monday acquitted and will soon return home to India.

The court noted (in Arabic) that the parties involved are “not guilty and stand acquitted”.

Mohammad Shareeq and Oniba Qureshi went on a “second honeymoon” to Qatar in 2019 — a gift from Shareeq’s paternal aunt Tabassum Riyaz Qureshi — when they were arrested from Hamad International Airport in Doha for carrying 4.1 kg of hashish in their luggage.

The couple in their defence had said that the drug packet was given to them by their aunt, falsely claiming that it contained tobacco to be delivered to a friend in Qatar.

However, the couple was arrested and convicted for the offence. Since then, they had been in jail and Oniba, who was pregnant at the time of the trip, delivered a daughter inside prison.

Since their conviction in 2019, Shareeq and Oniba’s families had been running pillar to post for relief.

Earlier, the Court of Cassation, the highest court in Qatar judicial system, had also noted that the verdict of the appeal court, equivalent to a high court, was “defective and worth for challenge” as it did not take into account the defence.

Also read: Qatar court orders review of Mumbai couple’s conviction for drug trafficking, family sees hope

‘Acquittals in drug cases uncommon in Qatar’

Speaking to ThePrint, the couple’s lawyer Nizar Kochery said it was “uncommon for a Qatar court to acquit someone in a drugs case”. 

However, in this case, the evidence collected by the Narcotics Control Bureau (NCB) against Tabassum — the couple’s aunt — helped them a lot in the case. 

“When it comes to cases of drug peddling, trafficking, the laws in Qatar are very strict and acquittals rare. It is uncommon,” he said.

“We prepared our defence based on the investigation by NCB that arrested Tabassum and her associates to prove the innocence of the couple. They had no idea that Tabassum was using them as a carrier by gifting them a holiday. We used reports from NCB and the evidence cited by them to argue our case and convince the court that the couple in custody is innocent,” he said.

Since the court has now issued a decision acquitting the couple of all charges, they will soon return home. 

“The procedural formalities to release them from the prison are on, the passport of the newborn is being made and all three should be home very soon,” he said.

The couple had married in May 2018 and gone to Bangkok for their honeymoon. While Shareeq worked as an administrative consultant with a Japanese financial technology firm, Oniba quit her managerial job with a private firm in Mumbai after marriage.

My daughter-in-law broke down’

Mohammad Shareeq’s father, Abdul Qayyum, who runs a hotel in Mumbai, is now gearing up to welcome his son, daughter-in-law and granddaughter back home.

“Although we were doing everything we could to prove my children’s innocence, we had started to lose hope after we were told how strictly drug cases are dealt with in Qatar. But today, we are ecstatic,” Qayyum said.

“I spoke to my daughter-in-law on the phone and she could not say a word. She broke down and just kept crying. They will be back home after two years with their daughter and we do not have words to explain how happy we are,” he added.

Qayyum also thanked the Indian government and NCB for their help. 

“My kids were acquitted because the NCB made a swift arrest of my sister and busted their racket. It is because of their investigation that we were able to convince the court in Qatar about who the real culprit was. Moreover, the Ministry of External Affairs too helped a lot using their diplomatic channel,” he said. 

“We have now kept a function to welcome our daughter-in-law, our new-born granddaughter and son. All relatives will get together. We have been waiting for this moment,” he added.

How NCB helped the couple’s case

After the matter came to the notice of NCB, a team was constituted by DG NCB Rakesh Asthana under Deputy Director (Operations) K.P.S. Malhotra and the case involving Tabassum and her associates was cracked.

“A detailed enquiry was initiated by NCB and it was learnt that a well-organised drug trafficking syndicate was being run by Mr Tabussum and others. This network was found to be part of the infamous Kasargod syndicate,” Malhotra said.

“A close surveillance was mounted on this syndicate by NCB and arrests were made. During interrogation, it was revealed that Qureshi and Oniba Kausar Shakeel Ahmed were innocent and were actually unaware about the presence of narcotic contrabands in their bags,” he added.

The NCB then with the help of the Ministry of External Affairs assisted the family of the couple to ensure their release.

“There were two ways to help the couple. One is to lodge an enquiry into the matter by recording statements but that would not empower NCB to record proper statements admissible in the court. The other was to work on the linkages of those involved in this incident and arrest them. This was approved by the DG and our teams started work on that,” Malhotra said.

The NCB then launched an operation in which the members of the syndicate had gone to Chandigarh to purchase charas from a Himachal-based entity. The operation led to the seizure and arrest of two Mumbai-based syndicate members along with the supplier of the drugs from Himachal.

Once the case was cracked, the investigation details, which proved the innocence of the couple, were shared with the MEA and Qatar ambassador.

“Indian Embassy at Qatar followed up the matter with the court of Qatar and the evidence collected in India was accepted by them. First their appeal was accepted by the Supreme Court and now they have been acquitted,” Malhotra added.

(Edited by Debalina Dey)

This report has been updated to explain how the NCB helped the couple’s case.

Also read: How Qatar has got out of the Gulf embargo with a much stronger hand


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