The Supreme Court of Justice of Portugal has denied India’s request to extradite Iqbal Singh alias ‘Shera’, in a setback to the National Investigation Agency (NIA), which describes him as the mastermind of a Hizbul Mujahideen (HM) Narco terror case, officials familiar with the development said.

The Portuguese court rejected the request as it was not convinced by guarantees of the Indian government that Singh will not serve a prison sentence of more than 25 years if extradited to India or further extradited to a third country, including Pakistan, they added.

“After the court’s observation, Iqbal Singh was released by the Portuguese authorities,” one of the officials cited above said on condition of anonymity.

According to a Portuguese publication, Expresso, the Indian embassy shared a letter by Central Authority on Extradition (MEA), with the Portuguese court, saying that Singh would not receive a prison sentence of more than 25 years and will not be re-extradited to a third country. The Indian letter assured it would comply with the “principle of reciprocity” with Portugal, the report said.

The court, however, observed that the letter does not fully bind the Indian government since it was not issued by any of its representatives but by the Central Authority on Extradition.

NIA, ministry of external affairs and ministry of home affairs did not respond to HT’s query on Portugal’s refusal to extradite Singh.

According to the probe agency, Singh is the mastermind behind the collection, distribution and sale of heroin smuggled from Pakistan in Kashmir, as also in collection and channelization of proceeds to further activities of the Hizbul Mujahideen. The matter came to light after one of the Narco traffickers was arrested and ₹29 lakh was recovered from him last year.

The official cited above said that the 26-year-old was absconding ever since the NIA began its probe into the case in May last year. A global arrest warrant was also issued against him through Interpol in October 2020.

Singh was arrested by Portugal’s Immigration and Border Service in Loures in July, following which he was sent to preventive detention at a prison in Lisbon.

Subsequently, India made a request with Portugal authorities to extradite the accused in order to unearth the entire Pakistan-Punjab-Kashmir Narco terrorism network.

NIA officials said that Singh, along with Pakistan-based Hizbul Mujahideen, sent six large consignments of heroin to India between 2018 and 2020. The consignments included a shipment of 532 kg of heroin, which was intercepted by the customs in June 2019 at Attari in Amritsar. The heroin consignments were sent in the garb of importing rock salt granules from Pakistan and proceeds of the same were partly sent back to Pakistan through hawala operators. A substantial portion of the proceeds was channelized to the terrorists in Jammu & Kashmir through a network of over ground workers and other associates, officials said.

Chief of Kashmir-based terror group Riyaz Ahmad Naikoo, who was killed by security forces in May 2020, was supervising the entire operation for the Hizbul in India, they added.

The agency has already filed a charge sheet against 12 people, including Singh and Naikoo, in connection with the case. On Wednesday, a fresh charge sheet was filed against two more Narco traffickers – Gurjant Singh and Nasir Khan.

Portugal had earlier accused India of violating the extradition treaty by slapping charges attracting death penalty against gangster Abu Salem, after he was extradited in 2005 for his role in the 1993 Mumbai blasts case. Salem was awarded a life sentence in 2017. He continues to plead before Indian courts that India violated the extradition terms.