Srinagar: The Enforcement Directorate (ED) has attached properties worth ₹5 crores across the Kashmir Valley as the first direct action in connection with a case pertaining to the alleged selling of medical seats in various institutions in Pakistan to aspiring students back home for personal benefits and alleged terror funding.

The ED officials said that these properties including seven immovable houses and other structures and two bank accounts in the name of various accused including Muhammad Akbar Bhat alias Zaffar Akbar Bhat, Fatima Shah, Qazi Yasir, Muhammad Abdullah Shah and Muhammad Iqbal Mir have been attached under the provisions of the Prevention of Money Laundering Act (PMLA), 2002.

The ED had initiated an investigation into the case based on an FIR registered and a charge sheet issued by a counter-intelligence agency of the Jammu and Kashmir police for the offenses under various sections of the Unlawful Activity (Prevention) Act, 1967 and the Indian Penal code against Bhat and others.

The ED had in March last year conducted searches in the residential houses and other premises of second-rung separatist leaders Bhat in Srinagar’s Bagh-e-Mehtab area and Qazi Yasir in Anantnag town. Bhat is the chairman of J&K Salvation Movement whereas Yasir heads J&K Ummat-e-Islami, a religio-political organisation based in southern Anantnag. The house of one Syed Khalid Geelani alias Khalid Andrabi in Srinagar’s Baghat area was also searched.

Bhat and three other persons Fatima Shah, a resident of Palhalan, Pattan (Baramulla district), Mohammad Abdullah Shah from north-western Kupwara district, and Sabzar Ahmad Sheikh, a resident of Nowgam, Shangus (Anantnag district) were arrested by the Counter-Intelligence Kashmir (CIK) wing of the J&K police in August 2021 on charges of being involved in the “racket”. The other accused are Altaf Ahmed Bhat and Manzoor Ahmed Shah who had migrated to Pakistan in the early 1990s and are presently living in Bahria Town (Karachi) and Gulmohar Colony (Rawalpindi), respectively. Altaf Bhat is a brother of Zaffar Akbar Bhat and Manzoor Shah of Muhammad Abdullah Shah.

Under various schemes of the Pakistan government, scholarships are offered for MBBS and engineering seats to J&K students –mainly the wards of “victims of violence”. Also, six percent of medical seats are reserved for students of J&K in PoJK medical colleges.

On average, about two dozen students from J&K were granted admissions to these colleges annually until the University Grants Commission (UGC) issued an advisory in May 2019, asking students from the erstwhile state not to seek admissions in professional colleges and other educational institutions in PoK, asserting the territory is an integral part of India and educational institutions there have neither been established by Government of India nor are these recognised by it or the country’s other statutory authorities such as All India Council for Technical Education (AICTE) and Medical Council of India (MCI).

The National Investigation Agency (NIA) had earlier in its chargesheet on alleged terror funding in J&K filed in a court in January 2018 claimed that Pakistan is offering scholarships to Kashmiri students “in order to prepare a generation of doctors and technocrats in Kashmir who will have leanings towards Pakistan”.

The Counter-Intelligence Kashmir (CIK) had alleged that some of these seats were being “sold” to aspiring students against huge sums of money which would be used for personal benefit and partly for terror funding.

The CIK had also said that it had registered a case in this connection in May 2020 after receiving reports that MBBS seats and admissions in other professional courses in the neighbouring country were being “sold” to Kashmiri students by leaders of Hurriyat Conference and other separatist parties in lieu of huge sums of money, the part of which was being diverted to the promotion of militancy in J&K.

The CIK had claimed that after they crossed to the other side of the Line of Control (LoC) to receive arms training, the duo “played a key role on behalf of ISI (Pakistan’s Inter-Services-Intelligence) in facilitating matters pertaining to admissions under this category for this set of Hurriyat linked persons on Indian side" and were "part of the nefarious design of pumping money into the militancy and other terrorist-related activities".

It had also alleged that while staying in Pakistan they were “a part of the inward and outward supply chains at one stage or the other and where credible evidence could be collected and brought on record.” It had added that the two more persons against whom "there is ample evidence are evading arrest but both of them will be arrested soon.”

The police had claimed that the investigation also revealed that on average the cost of a seat ranged between Rs 10 and 12 lakhs. “In some cases, the price was brought down on sifarish (recommendation) of Hurriyat leaders. In other words, depending upon the political heft of a Hurriyat leader who intervened, concessions were extended to the aspiring student and his family,” it had said.

The CIK investigations had “revealed” that the money was received in the personal bank accounts of the accused and also that of the Al-Jabar Trust which had been set up for charitable purposes. “However, these accounts were used to receive funds from the students and further ploughed into the terrorist activities in India in various ways such as distributing money to stone pelters, providing money to the persons/terrorists based in J&K on the instructions of Pakistan handlers such as Manzoor Ahmad Shah and Altaf Ahmad Bhat,” it had said.