x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 24 July 2017

Rise of a Karachi kingpin cop

A corrupt, low-level policeman with a healthy dose of street smarts rises to control hundreds of illegal gambling dens in Pakistan's largest city by doling out millions in illicit proceeds.

Pakistani men play cards in an alley in Islamabad. For months, the Supreme Court's chief justice Iftikhar Chaudhry has been leading special hearings on Karachi's crime, berating the city's top police officers for failing to act.
Pakistani men play cards in an alley in Islamabad. For months, the Supreme Court's chief justice Iftikhar Chaudhry has been leading special hearings on Karachi's crime, berating the city's top police officers for failing to act.

KARACHI // A corrupt, low-level policeman with a healthy dose of street smarts rises to control hundreds of illegal gambling dens in Pakistan's largest city. By doling out millions in illicit proceeds, he protects his empire and becomes one of the most powerful people in Karachi.

The allegations against the "Beater", as he is commonly known, emerged recently from surprise testimony by a top police commander before a crusading anti-crime supreme court judge. The story has given a rare and colourful glimpse into the vast underworld in Karachi, a chaotic metropolis of 18 million people on Pakistan's southern coast.

The city has become notorious for violence, from gangland-style killings and kidnappings to militant bombings and sectarian slayings. Further worrying authorities have been signs that the Pakistani Taliban are using the chaos to gain a greater foothold in the city.

For months, the supreme court's chief justice, Iftikhar Chaudhry, has been leading special hearings on Karachi's crime, berating the city's top police officers for failing to act. This past week, he demanded they move in to clean up so-called "no-go" areas - entire neighbourhoods where police fear to tread - according to local press reports.

Fuelling the problem is rampant police corruption, undermining efforts to combat the city's violent gangs and extremists. Among the public, the police nationwide are seen as the country's most crooked public sector organisation, a high bar given claims of pervasive corruption throughout the government.

The allegations surrounding the Beater add to questions about the overlap between Karachi's underworld and its police forces.

After the testimony to the supreme court earlier this year, police officials in Karachi provided additional details over his reported rise.

Repeated attempts to contact the man, who was removed from the force and fled Pakistan, were not successful.

He came from a poor family in Karachi's old city and joined the police force in the 1990s. He soon started working as a "beater," a low-level thug who works for more senior police to collect a cut from illegal activities in their area, such as gambling, prostitution and drug dealing, said half a dozen police officers who knew him personally at the time. They all spoke on condition of anonymity for fear of retribution.

The crime boss, who sports a bushy black moustache and usually dresses in a simple, white shalwar kameez, earned a reputation for carrying out his illicit work efficiently, said two police officers who have known him ever since he joined the force. That reputation helped him forge relationships with more senior figures, and eventually he was collecting money for some of the top police officers and civilian security officials in Karachi, they said.

The heavyset 40-year-old also attracted the attention of a local boss who controlled the largest concentration of illegal gambling dens in Karachi, located in the city's rough and tumble Ghas Mandi area, where he worked, said the policemen and a local journalist. The two teamed up to expand their gambling empire to other parts of Karachi and surrounding Sindh province.

The gambling dens in Ghas Mandi are hidden behind nondescript facades down dark alleyways with tangled electrical wires hanging overhead, in one of the oldest and densest populated parts of Karachi.

In one den, a dozen men dressed in shalwar kameez sat in a semicircle on the floor playing a local card game, mang patta, beneath bare bulbs hanging from the ceiling. The men sipped tea and tossed 100 rupee (Dh4) poker chips at the dealer.

The Beater earned tens of thousands of dirhams each day from hundreds of such gambling dens, said the policemen and journalist who knew him. He also collected extortion money from drug dealers and brothels and smuggled diesel fuel into Karachi from Iran, where it is much cheaper, they said.

He distributed cash to senior officials, and the payouts made him one of the most powerful people in Karachi's police force, said his acquaintances. He won significant influence over who was posted to senior positions, thus providing him with protection, they said. Known as a man of few words who rarely lost his cool, he also handed out money to Karachi's powerful criminal gangs and travelled with roughly a dozen armed guards as an insurance policy.

He was sailing smoothly through the underworld until one of the supreme court sessions in January.

A petitioner outlined to the court allegations of his illicit activities and his power in the police force. Chief Justice Chaudhry then asked senior police officers and civilian officials who were present about the allegations. They all expressed ignorance.

But the deputy inspector general, Bashir Memon, spoke up and backed the petitioner's claims.

"I said yes ... Beater is present among the ranks of the Karachi police. He controls the gambling business in Karachi," Mr Memon said. "I also confirmed that he is involved in the transfer and posting of junior and senior police officers."

Another senior police officer in Sindh province, Sanaullah Abbasi, also testified that he knew him and that he controlled gambling dens in Karachi.

Mr Chaudhry lambasted the senior officials for not going after the crime lord and asked Mr Memon whether he was concerned about contradicting his colleagues. "I replied, 'I only told you the truth,'" Mr Memon said.

The Beater was dismissed from the police force after the supreme court hearing, according to two senior police officers, and government records indicate he has not returned.