Former UKIP spokesman was kidnapping gang 'boss'
- 4 February 2014
- From the section UK Politics
A man who served as UKIP's Commonwealth spokesman for a year is the former leader of a kidnapping gang in Pakistan, BBC Newsnight has revealed.
Mujeeb ur Rehman Bhutto's gang were behind a high-profile kidnapping in Karachi in 2004 and he then took a £56,000 ransom payment in Manchester.
In 2005, Bhutto, of Leeds, admitted being the gang's "boss" and was jailed for seven years by a UK court.
UKIP said Bhutto, 35, had "recently" resigned his party membership.
A party spokesman said: "When we recently became aware of possible issues relating to his past and raised the matter with him, he resigned his membership."
Bhutto joined UKIP in 2011 and regularly appeared as UKIP's Commonwealth spokesman, and as a party representative in local and national media. He said he had left the party in December 2013.
He organised a trip to a Leeds mosque for party leader Nigel Farage and, during the 2012 Rotherham by-election, canvassed with UKIP candidate Jane Collins.
Bhutto, who is also a former member of the Conservative Party, told Newsnight he had admitted the charges against him in 2005 rather than risk being sent back to Pakistan and hanged.
"The evidence which was brought against me was from Pakistan. The allegation was simply because of political rivalry," he said.
He said he planned to appeal against his conviction for conspiracy to blackmail.
Bhutto said he had been granted political asylum in the UK in 2008 and that the case against him in Pakistan had been thrown out by the country's Supreme Court.
But senior Pakistani police sources insisted that Bhutto was still wanted in Pakistan.
In June 2004, a gang led by Bhutto kidnapped Ahmed Naeem, the son of a wealthy businessman, at gunpoint from a car on a Karachi residential street.
Five days later Bhutto flew to England.
He then negotiated a ransom payment with Mr Naeem's father, Mohammed Naeem.
"I have the power to give you such torture that you won't forget it for the rest of your life," Bhutto said in calls to Mohammed Naeem that were recorded by Pakistani police and reported during his 2005 court case.
Bhutto at one point threatened to have Ahmed Naeem's head cut off and sent to his father, according to court evidence.
Police in Karachi assisted the victim's family, and a police source delivered a £56,000 ransom to a car park at Manchester's Arndale shopping centre. Ahmed Naeem was then released by the gang in Pakistan.
Bhutto was swiftly arrested by Greater Manchester Police in co-operation with Pakistan police.
Ransom in bed
The £56,000 ransom was found hidden in Bhutto's bed in a house in Leeds, and he was forced to repay it when he appeared in court.
He was sentenced under the name Majeebur Bhutto.
"You came to the UK to avoid the risk of detection in Pakistan, where kidnapping is a capital offence," said the judge, Martin Steiger.
The other gang members were initially sentenced to death in Pakistan for the offence of kidnapping for ransom, but their sentences were commuted to life in prison in 2007 and one was released.
"Kidnappings have really gone through the roof in Pakistan. It's the main form of getting money for many terrorist organisations," said Shahed Sadullah, former editor of The News, part of the bilingual paper The Daily Jang.
"There were two things that were different about this case. One was that there was an involvement with a city which was 5,000 miles away in the UK. The second was that the guys who did it actually got caught."
In a regional UKIP newsletter from May 2013, Bhutto stated that he had been a member of the party since 2011.
"Our policy in UKIP is not to attack foreign nations, but to work with like-minded parties and support them so there is no export of terrorism to our shores," he said.
During an appearance on BBC debating show The Big Questions in March 2013, when he was frequently referred to as "UKIP's Commonwealth spokesman", Bhutto said: "We want controlled immigration where we know who's coming in, who's going out."
Hailed on Twitter
UKIP candidates, associations and official social media channels have previously posted messages indicating that Bhutto had a role as a UKIP representative, beyond being just a party member.
"UKIP have plenty of quality spokesman… Mujeeb Bhutto," UKIP Bradford and district chairman Jason Smith wrote on Twitter in May 2013.
"Watch UKIP's Mujeeb Bhutto speak out against mass uncontrolled immigration on the BBC's Big Question," read a tweet from UKIP's official Twitter feed in March 2013.
Jane Collins said on Twitter in March 2013 that Mr Bhutto was "fantastic on BBC Big Question this am. What an asset for UKIP".
In the course of the last month, Twitter, LinkedIn and multiple Facebook profiles of Mujeeb Bhutto have been deleted from the internet.
"If you don't have any discipline and tight screening of candidates, you are perpetually going to be in trouble," said Matthew Goodwin, of policy institute Chatham House and co-author of Revolt on the Right: Explaining Support for the Radical Right in Britain.
"UKIP are certainly trying to professionalise, to move away from its more amateurish origins."
Grant Shapps, Conservative Party chairman, said Bhutto had been a member of the party for a year in 2008-9.
Mr Shapps said: "He attempted to re-join the party last week after having been the UKIP spokesman. Because he's the spokesman for another party, we simply rejected that application.
"He is not now a member of the Conservative Party."
You can also see the report in full via the Newsnight website or the BBC iPlayer.